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For immediate release: May 10, 2004


“Who Owns the West?” Website Shows How Outdated Federal Law Continues To Threaten Western Public Lands and Surrounding Communities

Washington, DC – On the 132nd anniversary of the signing of the 1872 Mining Law, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released a new investigative website, Who Owns the West? detailing widespread mining industry control of public lands. The interactive website reveals that one out of every 11 acres of public land is open to the multinational mining industry. It also sheds new light on a massive taxpayer rip-off and giveaway of millions of acres of public lands to private corporations and individuals for rock-bottom prices – in some cases as little as 84 cents an acre.

“This investigation is the first comprehensive look at who has profited from the giveaway of public lands and minerals in the western United States,” said Stephen D'Esposito, President of EARTHWORKS. “These companies have been using the 1872 Mining Law to con taxpayers and destroy public lands for 132 years. It s time for a change.”

These giveaways are made possible by the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which has not been reformed since it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. In addition to enabling the mining industry to purchase public land for less than the price of a hamburger, the 1872 Mining Law also gives mining preferential treatment over all other lands uses and allows the mining industry to pollute western lands and waters with billions of pounds of toxic waste each year. Mining poses serious threats to lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water in the west, yet the 1872 Mining Law contains no provisions to protect these natural resources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates hardrock mining as the nation's top toxic polluter — based on pollution levels reported by the industry itself.

“Irresponsible mining practices have already left 500,000 abandoned mines throughout the west, as well as over 50 Superfund sites,” said D'Esposito. “Meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law is the only way to protect western communities, ensure responsible mining, and prevent mines in inappropriate places.”

The Who Owns the West? website also reveals that 20 percent of public lands given to the mining industry under the 1872 Mining Law are given to foreign corporations. Neither foreign nor national corporations pay any royalties to the taxpayer for the valuable minerals they extract. And the industry returns less of its sales revenue to the taxpayer than any other industry operating on public land.

In addition, the website demonstrates that hundreds of thousands of acres of undamaged public lands in the west are currently threatened by mining. “This website is a powerful tool for western communities,” said D'Esposito. “For the first time ever, they can discover the threats from future mining projects in their own backyards.”

In order to reform the 1872 Mining Law, end the subsidies and rip-offs detailed in the “Who Owns the West?” website, and protect the West from the negative impacts of mining, Representatives Nick Rahall (D-WV), Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Jay Inslee (D-WA) have introduced H.R. 2141, the Mineral Exploration and Development Act of 2003.