General Mining Law of 1872

A law passed to settle the West

The 1872 Mining Law was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. It was passed to promote the development and settlement of publicly-owned lands in the western United States.

A law that rips off taxpayers

The Mining Law directly subsidizes extraction by allowing mining interests to —

  • Mine taxpayer owned minerals without paying any royalties, unlike other extractive industries. Whoever stakes a claim and discovers valuable minerals on public lands claims those riches — more than $300 billion and counting since 1872 — without giving taxpayers a dime for them.
  • Buy those mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre — 1872 prices.

Its environmental costs might be even higher.

A law with a heavy environmental price

19th century America wasn’t concerned with environmental protection, so the 1872 Mining Law contains no environmental protection provisions. Communities and the environment have paid the price ever since:

A law that trumps all other land uses

Federal land managers are on record declaring that the 1872 Mining Law gives them no choice but to permit mining, no matter if the land is better used for recreation, conservation, renewable energy, or even fossil fuel extraction. has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government.

A law in need of reform

It’s the 21st century. The western U.S. is developed. And settled. Now we need to take care of the people (and communities) that settled there.

The way forward

Earthworks is working to reform this archaic law to better protect taxpayers, communities and the environment. We work with federal, state and local government, the mining industry, and impacted communities.

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