Mining Campaign

The mining of hard-rock minerals—gold, uranium and other metals—on public lands is governed today by the General Mining Law of 1872. The statute was enacted to promote mineral exploration and development in the western United States.

The law guarantees free access to individuals and corporations, both domestic and foreign-owned, to prospect on public lands and lay claim and develop the minerals without taxpayer compensation. And because the law’s interpretation gives mining priority status, it remains nearly impossible to prohibit or even restrict mining in special areas, regardless of its impact on critical habitat and other natural resources.

Pew's campaign for responsible mining is a national effort to educate and encourage the public and policy makers to adopt a modern framework for mining in the West.

Pew is working with a diverse group of stakeholders toward responsible reform to reclaim our public lands for future generations. Its goals include the following:

  • Extinguishing the “fire sale” of public land. The current system gives any individual or corporation—including those that are foreign-owned—the right to file claims and take title to public land.
  • Establishing protection as a priority. Wilderness areas such as roadless lands in national forests, critical watersheds and wildlife corridors, timber and grazing lands, cultural and historic sites, and areas close to population centers should be placed off limits to mine exploration and development.
  • Compensating taxpayers. Metal mining’s special entitlement to take gold, uranium and other metals from public land at minimal cost should be replaced with a system of royalty payments comparable to those currently charged to extract oil, gas and coal from public lands.
  • Establishing strong public health, environmental and cleanup standards. Because metal mining emits more toxic pollutants than any other industry, it should be required to meet the same environmental and cleanup standards that other sectors of the economy do.
  • Creating an abandoned-mine fund. To address long-standing problems caused by abandoned mines, including contamination of drinking water, degradation of fish and wildlife habitat, and threats to public health in nearby communities, a clean-up program should be established for metal mining.

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