06/23/2008 - On June 17, the generally conservative commissioners of Lincoln County, New Mexico, terrified by the prospect of a big gold mining operation in the nearby Capitan Mountains, asked the Senate to amend the 1872 mining law to give local officials some say in the matter. Two days later, Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona urged the secretary of the interior to take emergency measures to protect lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. And the day after that, three Western governors added their voices to the reform chorus.
Enticed by soaring prices in recent years for gold, silver, copper and uranium, mining companies have been filing claims at a record clip. But the General Mining Law of 1872, which governs them, is as flimsy as ever.
A relic of the boisterous era of Western expansion, the law gives hard-rock mining precedence over all other uses of the public lands, including conservation. It demands no royalties and provides minimal environmental protections. Its legacy, if it can be called that, is a battered landscape of abandoned mines and poisoned streams.
Read the full editorial The Case for Mining Law Reform on the New York Times' Web site.