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Congress Lays Claim to Mining Reforms

January 24, 2008

Washington, DC - With gold approaching $890 an ounce and other minerals escalating in price, Congress is taking aim this week at the age-old General Mining Law of 1872, which affects thousands of acres in South Dakota. The law ionce rewarded pioneers with the opportunity to mine gold and other metals, free of charge and in unlimited amounts, as a reward for settling the West.

Those pioneers are long gone, but the incentives remain, and concerns are growing that a handful of multinational corporations are cashing in on the nation's mineral resources without paying their fair share for them. Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, says taxpayers are being shortchanged.

"This is a law that is outdated, outmoded and not relevant to the current mining practices of the day."

The legislation pending in Congress would assess royalty payments on holders of mining claims, and enact environmental standards for the operation and cleanup of mine sites on public lands. Danowitz believes the reforms are needed because of environmental concerns.

"The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there's about a $50 billion price tag to address cleanup issues across the country."

The Environmental Working Group reports that 178 claim holders on 22,000 acres in South Dakota are paying from 84 cents per acre per year for land, and 62 cents per acre per year rental fees, with no reimbursement to the federal government for precious metals taken from public land.

David Law/John Robinson, Public News Service - SD