General Mining Law of 1872
A law passed to settle the West
The 1872 Mining Law was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. It was passed to promote the development and settlement of publicly-owned lands in the western United States.
A law that rips off taxpayers
The Mining Law promotes development by allowing mining interests to --
- take valuable hardrock minerals including gold, silver, and uranium from public lands without royalty payment to the taxpayer -- unlike other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas;
- buy valuable mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre -- 1872 prices.
A law with a heavy environmental price
19th century America wasn't concerned with environmental protection. So the mining law doesn't contain environmental protection provisions. Communities and environments have paid the price.
One result: hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines.
According to Earthworks' estimates, it will cost taxpayers between $32-72 billion to clean up these mines. And taxpayers are potentially liable for billions more in cleanup costs at currently operating mines.
Another result: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of the headwaters of western U.S. watersheds have been polluted by mining.
A law that trumps all other land uses
The Mining Law has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government. The federal government is on record as saying that they cannot say no to mining proposals.
Even if those proposals threaten some of America's most special places. Even if those proposals pollute clean water.
A law in need of reform
It's the 21st century. The western U.S. is developed. And settled. Now we need to take care of the people (and communities) that settled there.
The way forward
Earthworks is working to reform this archaic law to better protect taxpayers, communities and the environment. We work with federal, state and local government, the mining industry, and impacted communities.
For more information:
- Earthworks: 1872 Mining Law 101
- Earthworks: 1872 Mining Law - The need for reform
- Earthworks: 1872 Mining Law - Reform requirements
- Earthworks: 1872 Mining Law - Abandoned mine legacy
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer: The General Mining Act of 1872 has left a legacy of riches and ruin, June 10, 2001. An excellent, comprehensive discussion of the 1872 Mining Law and its impacts.