A law passed to settle the West
The 1872 Mining Law was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. It was passed to promote the development and settlement of publicly-owned lands in the western United States.
A law that rips off taxpayers
The Mining Law directly subsidizes extraction by allowing mining interests to —
- Mine taxpayer owned minerals without paying any royalties, unlike other extractive industries. Whoever stakes a claim and discovers valuable minerals on public lands claims those riches — more than $300 billion and counting since 1872 — without giving taxpayers a dime for them.
- Buy those mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre — 1872 prices.
Its environmental costs might be even higher.
A law with a heavy environmental price
19th century America wasn’t concerned with environmental protection, so the 1872 Mining Law contains no environmental protection provisions. Communities and the environment have paid the price ever since:
- America is littered with hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that will cost taxpayers between $32-72 billion to clean up. And taxpayers are potentially liable for billions more in cleanup costs at currently operating mines.
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of the headwaters of western U.S. watersheds have been polluted by mining.
- Hardrock/metal mining is the America’s #1 toxic polluter.
- The Associated Press reports (as of 2019) that every day hardrock mines collectively produce around 50 million gallons of polluted waters, threatening water supplies of downstream communities.
A law that trumps all other land uses
Federal land managers are on record declaring that the 1872 Mining Law gives them no choice but to permit mining, no matter if the land is better used for recreation, conservation, renewable energy, or even fossil fuel extraction. has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government.
A law in need of reform
It’s the 21st century. The western U.S. is developed. And settled. Now we need to take care of the people (and communities) that settled there.
The way forward
Earthworks is working to reform this archaic law to better protect taxpayers, communities and the environment. We work with federal, state and local government, the mining industry, and impacted communities.
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