If Pombo gets his way, this land will be their land. A law enabling the largest federal land rush has been passed by the House of Representatives. If it gets through the Senate and is enacted into law, mining claims could be sold on several hundreds of thousands or by some estimates up to 5 million acres, of our federal land in the West. Most shocking is that as written, the law resuscitates moldering mining claims that predate and are inside our oldest National Parks including Yellowstone and Yosemite.
The 1872 mining law set prices at between $2.50 and $5 to patent or in other words to buy an acre. Cheap even in 1872, but this price is so ludicrous today that all federal land has been under a Congressional moratorium banning any new claims for the last 11 years. Pombo’s proposal would lift this ban on federal lands, including National Forests and BLM lands.
This flagrant abuse is masquerading as a reform of the 1872 mining law and laughably as a revenue generator. Sadly it is neither. This proposed law does raise the price per acre from $5 to the higher of $1000/acre or “market value,” but the valuation does not include any of the value of subsurface minerals And the craziest part is that it actually waives the 1872 law’s minimal requirement that there even are proven minerals on the land to be sold. This means it is potentially opening all federal lands to speculators and developers of all stripes from ski area to tract house developers. If by sheer chance, there happen to be minerals in the mining claim, Pombo’s bill again flunks completely in raising revenue by not requiring any ongoing royalties on any minerals that are extracted. This law is not in any way a reform, it is a complete rip off of us all.
Even Western Senators renowned for cozy relationships with extractive industries like Larry Craig of Idaho, Wayne Allard of Colorado, Craig Thomas of Wyoming, and Conrad Burns of Montana have raised serious questions and/or have come out against this bill because as a revenue generator, in a time of ballooning federal deficits, it is a complete loser. Hopefully Pombo’s rip off will be stripped from the budget reconciliation bill that it never should have been attached to in the first place.
Full repeal of the 1872 mining law is a great idea. A second choice would be real reform that requires stringent environmental oversight, strong land exclusions, complete post mining restoration, up front costs in line with today’s financial reality and decent royalties. But Pombo’s ugly idea just won’t flush.