A Google Earth interactive project created by the Pew Environment Group shows that national parks and other vacation destinations—including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone—are under threat due to the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. Pew's “Check Out the View from Route 1872” provides a window on how the 19th century law that governs gold, uranium and other hardrock mining on western public lands has given a global industry the right-of-way at the expense of taxpayers and the environment.
The release of this tool comes as U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is reportedly expected to announce a plan to protect roughly 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims, and on the eve of a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing on legislation introduced by Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) in response to threats to the Grand Canyon National Park and downstream water quality from uranium mining just outside park boundaries. The legislation, H.R. 644, would permanently prohibit new claims taking in approximately 1.1 million acres of land surrounding the park. Uranium mining is governed by the 1872 mining law, which gives mining priority over other uses on most public lands in the West.
“The Grand Canyon is one of America's most iconic treasures, yet an outdated law renders us powerless to stop uranium mining right above it,” said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group. “Unfortunately, dozens of other parks and special places are also in harm's way due to failure by Congress to take action and pass a modern mining law.”
Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the Obama administration supports efforts to reform the 1872 law. Both Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who chairs that committee, and Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), who heads the House Committee on Natural Resources, have introduced legislation to modernize the law. The Senate committee heard testimony on Bingaman's bill, S. 796, and S. 140, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to create industry-generated funds for mine cleanup.
Also last week, the Environmental Protection Agency identified mining as a taxpayer burden and the nation's top polluter, documenting billions spent over the past decade on cleanup of mining industry toxic “mega-sites.” Moreover, the 1872 law allows mining companies—even those that are foreign-owned—to take approximately $1 billion annually in gold, uranium and other metals from public lands without payment of a royalty, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
To take the “Route 1872” tour, go to http://www.pewminingreform.org/roadtrip.html.