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I just watched Annie Leonard’s latest short film, “The Story of Broke: Why There’s Still Plenty of Money to Build a Better Future,” and I loved it!

This time around Annie explains how the government could possibly be broke after taking in a trillion dollars a year from taxpayers. Let’s just say the problem isn’t a gold shortage.

Spoiler alert!


Everyone’s favorite dinosaur, the 1872 Mining Law, guest stars in this latest installment, reminding us all that maybe times haven’t changed as much as men on the moon and the internet in your pocket may have you believe.

In her exploration of government giveaways Annie explains just how far we’ve advanced:

“There’s freebie subsidies: where the government gives stuff that belongs to all of us to corporations for cheap or even free. That’s billions more we should be collecting but never see! Like permits to mine public lands, granted at prices set in the Mining Law of 1872. Really. 1872. President Grant signed this law to encourage settlement of the West. News flash: it’s settled.”

Looks like we left something behind when we landed on the moon!

But the devil’s in the details. At the current cost of no more than $5 an acre for public lands we are missing out on an estimated $160 million in federal revenue. Add that to the more than $72 billion it costs to clean up abandoned mines, which companies are not responsible for, and we have ourselves a real financial crisis.

I would say it’s time to change Occupy Wall St. to Occupy Mines, but the fact is both are culprits in the theft of our resources. What we can do is reform the 1872 Mining Law.

It’s time (almost 140 years later) to rethink the way we allocate our valuable natural resources and the way we go about extraction. Let’s use this Story to move forward with the reform we know is necessary. Stay tuned to Earthworks this fall for opportunities to reform the 1872 Mining Law.