Photographer and writer Tim Palmer is the author of 19 books about rivers, including “Field Guide to California Rivers.” Char Miller teaches environmental history at Pomona College and is author of “Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream.”
What if communications today were governed by a law passed before the telephone was invented? Or if transportation were guided by federal policy made before there were cars?
That’s exactly the type of anachronism in play regarding America’s key law governing the extraction of hard-rock minerals, such as gold, silver and copper, on public land. The Mining Act of 1872, which President Ulysses S. Grant signed, still sanctions destructive practices on what amounts to one-third of the country’s acreage and 46% of California’s.
It can create toxic plumes and moonscape rubble in national forests, national monuments and Bureau of Land Management holdings that many regard as their favorite places on Earth. That’s one reason why pressure is mounting to change this antiquated 19th century legislation.
Congress passed the Mining Act when sourdoughs were swinging pickaxes, and it remains largely intact even though grizzled prospectors chipping away at their claims have been replaced by equipment six stories tall that can decapitate a mountaintop in a few days.
Regulations that govern “resource extraction” in the form of gravel pits, coal mines and oil and gas wells have been updated, and mining has been effectively stopped in national parks, but no such changes have occurred for hard-rock mining on other public lands. Instead, the 1872 law binds us to mistakes that have been clear for years.
For the rest of this column: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-palmer-miller-1872-mining-law-20190412-story.html