Blasting from the past: the 1872 Mining Law


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

1872 Mining Law - Enacted to lure settlers westward with the promise of access to the nation's minerals, this law grants hardrock (not coal, gravel, or oil and gas) miners free and open access to all public lands not expressly withdrawn from mining, and allows these miners to search for minerals without a permit. Miners are allowed to recover minerals without paying royalties to the federal government.

Patenting - If miners can prove they have a valuable ore discovery, they can patent (or buy) the surface land for as little as $2.50 an acre. This frees the mining company from government oversight. However, Congress has imposed a moratorium on patenting for the past three years.

NEPA and Reclamation - The mining law includes no requirement for environmental reclamation or bonding. Since 1971, however, miners have been subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires land-management agencies to follow certain procedural steps, including preparation of an environmental impact statement, before permitting a mine on federal land or issuing a patent. As a result of the give-and-take of the EIS process, the mining company is generally required to promise to reclaim the mine site.

Bonding - Starting in 1981, the Bureau of Land Management Agency has required companies that mine more than five acres to post a bond that would be used to reclaim the surface area in case the company fails financially. In February, this was expanded to include all hardrock mines.

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