Congress seriously considers changes in mining laws in the U.S. — the General Mining Act of 1872 is 135 years old with no serious changes since its passage. President Ulysses S Grant signed the law.
The law affected much of the development of the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, but this issue is generally ignored. The New York Times editorial page endorses the change process in an editorial today.
Originally enacted to encourage economic development in the West, the law gives precedence above all other land uses to mining for hard-rock minerals like gold, uranium and copper. It requires no royalties from companies that mine on public lands and contains no environmental safeguards. It has left a sad legacy of abandoned mines, poisoned streams and damaged landscapes throughout the West.
Now, at last, there is real hope for reform. Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who has been trying to modernize this law for two decades, has persuaded the Natural Resources Committee to approve a major rewrite.
The law is a major study in economics, government intervention and free markets. It would make a good topic for warm-ups or government intervention lesson plans in high school economics classes.