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Know the West

Let's obey the 1872 Mining Law

  Dear HCN,

Before launching into my diatribe, I want to thank you for the recent cover story on the history of the Butte mines (HCN, 6/7/99). It ought to be required reading in history classes in Montana public schools. Now, here's my response to the letter you printed from Battle Mountain Gold's corporate consigliere (HCN, 6/21/99).

Battle Mountain Gold relies on a plain misstatement of the law in attempting to defend Washington Sen. Slade Gorton's rider allowing the Crown Jewel Mine here in Washington state to proceed. Greg V. Etter, Battle Mountain Gold's corporate attorney, asserts that the 5-acre millsite limitation relied upon by the Department of Interior when it denied the patent application for the Crown Jewel "is not now and never has been the law of the United States."

A quick glance at the law refutes this assertion.-The provision of the United States code allowing mining companies to patent millsites states "no location (for a millsite) made on and after May 10, 1872, of such nonadjacent land shall exceed five acres." (U.S. Code Title 30, Section 42).-That unambiguous language has been on the books since the law was signed by President Grant in 1872.

When changes in mining technology rendered the 5-acre millsite limitation obsolete, it was simply ignored.-This says a lot more about the power of the mining lobby and industry lackeys such as Sen. Gorton than it does about what the law says.

The American taxpayer and all those who care about this nation's public lands owe Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Interior Solicitor John Leshy a huge debt of gratitude for insisting that the hardrock mining industry accept the limitations of the 1872 Mining Law along with its largesse.-We can only hope this will be the blow that finally forces a change to this anachronistic and environmentally destructive corporate welfare.

Eric Christensen

Bothell, Washington

The writer practices law in Everett, Washington.