The antiquated General Mining Law of 1872 is one of the last remaining dinosaurs of the old public land giveaways. Although it was enacted 143 years ago when Ulysses S. Grant was President, it still governs hardrock mining on federal lands today. It allows foreign and domestic companies to take valuable minerals from public lands without paying any royalties, and it still allows public land to be purchased at the 1872 price of less than $5.00 an acre.
The 1872 Mining Law contains no environmental provisions, allowing hardrock mines to wreak havoc on western water supplies, wildlife and landscapes. Mining has polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. An increasing numbers of mines will generate water pollution for hundreds to thousands of years, or “in perpetuity” – creating a toxic legacy in arid states that are already struggling to access freshwater.
To address these issues and others, Congressman DeFazio (D-OR), Congressman Lowenthal (D-CA), and Congressman Grijalva (D-AZ), introduced legislation to finally reform this antiquated law.