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Washington, DC –  House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) has written draft legislation for the budget reconciliation bill that would alter the 1872 Mining Law and repeal a 10-year moratorium on the selling of public land to multi-national mining companies. Congress plans to start the budget reconciliation process this month.

If the patent moratorium is repealed, treasured places throughout the West could be permanently removed from America's system of public lands. As a result, those Americans who hunt, fish, hike, and recreate in these areas will be permanently denied the access they currently enjoy.  The fate of rivers and streams running through these lands, providing water for agriculture and municipalities, will be left largely to mining companies to determine, as will the health of wildlife and game habitat.

Under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, mining companies can patent ” buy” public land for $2.50 or $5 an acre. Since 1994, there has been a moratorium on this practice, passed in the Interior Appropriations bill each year.  Under Congressman Pombo's proposal, mining companies would once again be able to buy public land, albeit for $1,000 an acre – still far below the true value of the mineral-rich land.

“No one should be fooled by Mr. Pombo's smoke and mirrors Mining Law 'reform,'” said Lauren Pagel, Legislative Coordinator at EARTHWORKS. “It's nothing more than a $1000/acre 'Trojan horse' designed to dupe Congress into giving away public access to America's special places.”

By almost any measure – certainly in today's real estate market – patenting represents the stealing of a portion of the country's western heritage. And to make matters worse, the proposal would severely limit the government's ability to reject these giveaways. In fact, Pombo's proposal weakens discovery requirements that must be met before a patent is issued, enshrines a mining company's “right to mine” regardless of whether or not they have a valuable mineral deposit and wipes out the ability of concerned citizens to challenge mining company patents.

The 1872 Mining Law needs to be reformed – but not in a way that gives the mining industry the ability to purchase public lands and codifies their right to mine regardless of other essential and cherished land uses. Real and meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law would:

  • Preserve communities and special places by repealing the preferential treatment mining receives over all other commercial, recreational and conservation uses on public lands;
  • Protect water resources and the environment by preventing mining pollution;
  • Require fair payment to taxpayers for publicly owned minerals – similar to what other extractive industries pay; and
  • Eliminate the giveaways of billions of dollars in mineral-bearing public lands for private profit.