The Horrific Theft and Destruction of Amercas Public Land
There is a story that claims Native Americans sold Manhattan for $24 worth of beads. That turns out to be just another made-up folk tale from the past.
The U.S. government, on the other hand, is in the process of turning over the mineral rights to almost two million acres of formerly protected public lands for only a few hundred dollars per lot. That is unfortunately all too real.
The lands being converted for public use come from the shrinking of two of Utah’s most important national monuments. With the stroke of a pen by Donald Trump on February 2, the Bears Ears and Grand StaircaseEscalante national monuments were cut back in size by 1.84 million acres. That acreage is filled with deposits of uranium and coal – deposits that have not been available for private mining since the lands were set aside years ago.
Because these lands are no longer designated as national monuments, their use is now subject to the General Mining Act of 1872. That law was enacted at a time when the government saw land and the minerals within it as being virtually inexhaustible and environmental protections were unimagined. It was also a time when the government wanted Americans to seek their fortune wherever they might find it. The clarion call of “Go West, Young Man!” went out to anyone with the right equipment to go to places like Utah, stake their land claims on federal lands for a small fee and then see what they might uncover. At that time, mineral claims were marked with piles of rock and a piece of paper. Filing fees were a maximum of $5 per acre.
The fee structure has changed but, relatively speaking, not by much. Now, all it costs for similar claims is $212 as a filing fee and an annual maintenance fee of $155 for the right to extract minerals from federal lands. There is also no provision for royalties to be charged on what is pulled out of the ground.
Since the 1872 law was passed, there have been various attempts to update it to something more reasonable for the current day. A 2007 house bill that levied royalty payments on existing mining claims on federal lands was passed, but the corrupt Senate never approved it. Another similar bill was introduced two years later but again did not pass, due to payoffs from the mining industry. Almost 150 years after the original 1872 act was passed, the government still charges no additional fees to mining companies looting and polluting public lands.
Another thing most people do not realize is that the damage caused by mining operations is often cleaned up at public – not private – expense.
There are more than 500,000 abandoned mines sitting on federal lands with cleanup and restoration costs in the tens of billions of dollars needed far into the future. There are an estimated 50 billion tons of untreated, unreclaimed mining wastes on public and private land. Yet, the EPA and Interior Dept. only budget a tiny fraction of what is needed to clean up the mines. Only the most polluting are put on the superfund list and actions taken to clean them up and sometimes those efforts are worse than doing nothing.
Some mines have been polluting the environment unhindered for more than 100 years.
The Gold King mine in Colorado ceased operations
in 1923 and has been polluting surrounding streams and rivers since with a steady stream of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and other toxic elements. The EPA finally designated the mine a superfund site but then in 2015 it released 3 million gallons of toxic waste from the mine into the Animas river. Even though the lead levels in the river were thousands of times higher than EPA limits, the EPA claimed that the spill posed no threat to human health or the environment.
The sale of the 1.84 million acres of land stolen from the Utah national monuments is a double tragedy. The Grand Staircase-escalante National Park region has legendary sandstone cliffs that people used to travel from around the world to see. It is also filled with dinosaur fossils valuable to all as a historical record of our planet’s past. The Bears Ears area is filled with a variety of stunning natural resources. It is also considered sacred land to no fewer than five Native American tribes and contains numerous unique and priceless historical sites not yet investigated by archaeologists.
Americans overwhelmingly opposed the land theft but then Americans no longer have any real influence over the absurdities that pass for most federal and state government.
Utah used to enjoy a lucrative tourist industry that generated billions each year in revenue for local businesses, but few tourists will want to visit toxic waste sites or land destroyed by needless mining and drilling (fracking) operations.
Perhaps Utah businesses should have setaside some of their revenue to pay lobbyists to influence Washington and perhaps Utah voters should not have voted for Donald Trump and supported the destruction of public land.
EPA effort to contain toxic waste from Gold King Mine.