Mining Law ‘Land Grab’ (Letter to the Editor)

Richard L. Lawson, president of the National Mining Association, is right, and USA TODAY is wrong (“Mining laws cheat taxpayers,” Our View; “Land-grab threatens economy,” Opposing View, Federal giveaways debate, Feb. 10).

The Clinton administration’s proposal to lock up 430,000 acres of Montana’s Front Range would destroy jobs and wipe out billions of dollars in state and local tax revenues, as Lawson contends. Worse, Clinton’s land-grab would suppress the last vestige of resource privatization or “homesteading” that Washington’s all-knowing central planners still permit.

Under the much-maligned 1872 Mining Law, any American can go onto certain federal lands; find a probable ore body, stake a claim, prove it and transfer a parcel from the bureaucratic sector to private ownership — just like the old homestead laws.

The Mining Law is not perfect. But it is a tiny exception to the monopolizing compulsions of federal land-management agencies.

The conflict between miners and environmentalists is an artifact of “public” —political — land management. In a private marketplace, differences in values do not generate conflict but rather mutually beneficial voluntary exchange. Instead of negating the mining law, policymakers should expand the opportunities it provides for private ownership. Miners and environmentalists would then be able to spend less time feuding and more time producing value from lands they acquire and own.