1872 Mining Law Revisited

Although hardrock minerals are valuable natural resources, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 1872 that permits their removal from federal lands is antiquated and according to many needs revision. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is one who holds that view. Salazar recently told a Senate panel that the Obama administration intends to end 30 years of gridlock on the issue. "There is a new administration in town, and we do want to get the 1872 mining law reformed. We are committed to that and are committed to deploying significant resources from the Department of Interior to get this done," Salazar said.  

Salazar also supports mining reform that includes a Good Samaritan provision that would protect groups or companies willing to clean up abandoned mines from legal liability under the federal Clean Water Act. Currently there are about 500,000 abandoned mines nationwide--many of which have contaminated lakes and streams. The 1872 law also allowed people to patent-or buy- public land for mining for $2.50 to $5 an acre. While there's been a congressional moratorium on patents since the mid-1990s, new regulations may permanently eliminate them. In addition, new language could beef up environmental controls and give federal agencies the ability to say "No" to a mine that would irreparably harm the environment.
If the current administration is successful, first-ever federal royalties on gold, silver, copper, and other metals mines may be charged for minerals pulled from public lands. Mining companies currently don't pay anything for using property owned by taxpayers. According to the Washington-based environmental group Earthworks, at least $245 billion worth of metals have been mined on public lands with nothing going to taxpayers. That money could be used to clean up abandoned mines, including the 23,000 in Colorado.