Produced by the Environmental Working Group, "Who Owns the West," allows the user to scroll through regional, state and local maps of mining lands, and then research who owns them, and what they paid.
The site reveals that, despite bargain-basement prices, hardrock mining companies return only 2.3 percent of sales to the government — compared to 11.9 percent from coal, 13.2 percent from oil and gas, and 66.7 percent from timber.
The data also show that more than 1 million acres are claimed by foreign companies, mostly in gold-rich Nevada. Environmental costs can go uncollected from foreign companies due to the difficulty of international arbitration, says Roger Flynn, an environmental lawyer for the Western Mining Action Project. Both U.S. and foreign companies have also evaded cleanup costs by forming subsidiaries which are unable to pay if the mine folds.
Mining industry advocates respond that the report ignores mining’s economic contributions to Western communities. "Without them," says National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich, "some of these communities would roll up and blow away."
"Who Owns the West" can be seen at www.ewg.org/mining/.