Hardrock Dues

November 25, 1993

For more than a century, hardrock mining interests have profited from public lands, paying no federal royalties and acquiring title to government real estate for a pittance. Miners have been favored by a type of "homesteading" law passed in 1872 to encourage settlement of the West.

President Clinton's showdown with sagebrush privilege, an effort to charge fees and impose environmental restraints, ended in sharp retreat. But the House has now voted resoundingly to extract royalties from miners of gold, silver and other heavy minerals on public land -- and use the money to reclaim abandoned mines. It assures a bruising showdown in a conference committee.

Under the House bill, mining permits could be denied on unsuitable public lands and the practice of firms claiming title to public lands through dirt-cheap "patents" would end. Public lands belong to all Americans and not to special interests, no matter how colorful their frontier heritage.

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