Wednesday, March 30, 2022

As the US Rushes After the Minerals for the Energy Transition, a 150-Year-Old Law Allows Mining Companies Free Rein on Public Lands

  I suggest reading the whole article.


By Jim Robbins
March 13, 2022

On the vast expanse of public lands across the West, a rush for the minerals needed for the 21st century technologies of the energy transition depends on a 150-year-old law. Those lands’ survival of the clean energy mineral rush may depend on rewriting it.

A new open pit lithium mine was approved last year at Thacker Pass in Nevada, on publicly owned land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, to tap into this country’s largest known deposit of the mineral, worth nearly $4 billion.


 But as vital and valuable as lithium is, a Canadian company called Lithium Americas, whose largest shareholders are Chinese mining companies, is getting the mineral at Thacker Pass from the American taxpayer for free. And at the end of the mine’s life, critics say, it will leave behind a mound of waste, an open pit the size of a small canyon that cannot be fully reclaimed and polluted groundwater.


But a coalition of Native Americans, environmentalists and a local rancher that is suing the government to stop the mine argue it will have a host of negative impacts on area water, species and sacred sites that were underestimated in a rushed environmental impact statement that failed to adequately consult area tribes.

At the heart of that conflict, and others across the country, between a booming 21st century renewable energy economy and environmental protection of U.S. public lands is a 19th century mining law written to spur the settling of the American West.

In May of 1872, a couple of months after he signed the bill that created Yellowstone National Park, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Law of 1872: An Act to Promote the Development of the Mining Resources of the United States. It gave carte blanche to anyone seeking minerals on federal lands, as a way to finish populating the West.

On hundreds of millions of acres owned by U.S. taxpayers, the law transfers gold, silver, copper, uranium, lithium and other metals, in vast amounts, from public ownership to anyone who locates them, pounds four stakes in the ground around their location and files a claim. Foreign firms can stake claims by forming a U.S. subsidiary. Unlike publicly owned oil and gas resources, miners pay no royalties on the metals and minerals they dig from public lands.



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