The last few years have witnessed an unpredented land rush with mining companies eagerly staking thousands of new claims in areas bordering on some of the country's most prized natural treasures — including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks. Indeed, a new analysis of government records by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has revealed that the total number of active claims has risen from 207,540 in January 2003 to 376,493 in July 2007, an 80% increase. Stoked by a large increase in global demand for metals, mining companies are staking thousands upon thousands of claims for gold, copper, uranium and other metals.
Because the U.S.'s original mining law, which was enacted in 1872, offered very little protection for lands — essentially prioritizing the interests of mining companies over those of the public — many have argued for a fundamental overhaul in its provisions to bring it up to date. As Dusty Horwitt — an EWG Public Lands analyst and the report's author — put it to us, reforms in the legislation need to be implemented to at least place mining on the same level as other extractive practices.
According to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), metals mining is the country's leading source of toxic pollution, a dubious distinction the industry has held for 8 consecutive years (1998 - 2005). In addition, the EPA estimates that more than 40% of Western watersheds have contamination in their headwaters as a result, and that the total clean up cost of mining sites in the West could be $32 billion or more.
With mining interests staking an ever increasing number of claims within a few miles of our national parks — 2,901 since January 2003 — it has become more critical than ever for us to act and urge Congress to take steps to limit this unfettered, massive land grab. Fortunately, the House is getting ready to take up a bill introduced by Chairman of the Resources Committee Nick Rahall (D - WV), H.R. 2262, which would finally put an end to the mining interests' priority status.
The EWG has its own exhaustive list of recommendations for countering the growing influence of mining companies — including setting up an abandoned mine cleanup fund, requiring interests to make royalty payments to taxpayers and enacting tougher standards for mine cleanup. For the full list and to read the rest of the report (including an informative Google map listing all the mining claims and their locations relative to national parks), check out EWG's mining database.
Via ::Environmental Working Group: Mining Law Threatens Grand Canyon, other Natural Treasures (executive summary)
See also: ::Coal Executive Attacks Global Warming With His Miners Trapped Below, ::"Toxic West Virginia" from ViceTV: Coal Mining, ::China's Coal Industry: The Waste Has Us Gasping
Images courtesy of EWG and Nogwater via flickr