Digging a Little Deeper
The Mining Law of 1872 can be improved, but the basic law should remain intact, says David Gerard, a research associate with PERC (the Political Economy Research Center). In a new study, "The Mining Law of 1872: Digging a Little Deeper," Gerard reviews the impact of the law and discusses proposed alternatives. He finds that the law provides appropriate incentives to mine on public lands, incentives that would be stifled by most reform proposals.
However, he also thinks that there is a genuine question of whether the public receives a "fair return" for the use of public land for mining. Thus, whether mining companies should pay royalties is "a legitimate subject of discussion."
As for environmental protection, he says that changing other laws, such as the Superfund law and the Clean Water Act, would accomplish more than changing the Mining Law. "Current environmental laws often provide the wrong incentives to ensure accountability and encourage reclamation," says Gerard.
In sum, Gerard concludes that the Mining Law as it now stands has "substantial merit" because it provides broad access to public land for exploration, secure property rights once a discovery is made, and the payment of a "holding fee," which allows claimants time to wait for suitable market conditions before actually mining.
Gerard's study is based on his Ph.D. dissertation in economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.