1872 Mining Law Is Obsolete and in Need of Reform

5:26 pm in Uncategorized by Donald Goldmacher

This entry was written by HEIST co-producer/co-director Frances Causey.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant, hoping to spur development of the West, signed a law called the General Mining Act, which authorized prospecting and mining on public lands for precious “hard rock” metals including gold, copper, silver and platinum. Unlike the oil, coal, and natural gas industries that pay a 12.5 percent royalty on minerals they extract, the 1872 Act lets mining companies take “hard rock” metals from America’s public lands for free.

You read that right. Mining companies take billions of dollars in gold, silver, and other precious metals from our public lands — with little or no environmental oversight or protections — and don’t have to pay a penny in royalties to U.S. taxpayers.

After 140 years, the 1872 mining law has become disastrously obsolete and needs to be reformed.

Many people rightfully ask why, in this day and age, when we are debating what to do about the government’s massive deficits, this law is still on the books. Why, they wonder, are giant, hugely profitable mining companies from all over the world allowed to tear up our National forests and public lands, pollute our air and water with mercury, lead, arsenic and other poisons, ship the gold, copper and other metals overseas, and then walk away with all the profits?

In the bizarre world of Washington politics, the answer is all too simple. The extraordinarily powerful mining lobby, with the help of Senator Harry Reid, whose state profits mightily from gold mining, has successfully perpetuated a “hands-off” approach to the 1872 law. In 2008, legislation that would have reformed the 1872 law was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but was dead on arrival in the Senate.

The proposed Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson, Ariz., (where I live) is the poster child for 1872 reform. The proposed mine is a particularly shocking example of how big mining corporations, including foreign corporations, continue to take advantage of the 1872 law to enrich themselves and their overseas investors. Vancouver-based Augusta Resource Corporation, the speculative outfit that set up the Rosemont Copper company as a local front, is currently seeking government permits to build a mile-wide, half-mile deep copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.

The project, perhaps the largest of its kind near a major metropolitan area of almost one million residents, is a cauldron of potentially disastrous economic and environmental impacts. If built, the mine will destroy a beloved mountaintop that is home to the only known jaguar left in the United States, suck millions of gallons of precious groundwater away from existing farms, ranches, residents and business in an already bone-dry state, bury nearby forests, canyons and streams under billions of tons of toxic mining waste, and contaminate Arizona’s pristine air which has drawn people and their dollars to Arizona for generations.

Arizona has a long history of mining but the Rosemont mine has generated tremendous local opposition and would not even be on the drawing board if it weren’t for the 1872 mining law.

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