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The Enduring Vitality of the General Mining Law of 1872

July 1988

Citation: ELR 10261

Author: Mark Squillace

Editors' Summary: Perhaps no law in the federal natural resources arsenal has engendered more long-term controversy, while nonetheless maintaining its original structure and premise, than the Mining Law of 1872. Enacted to validate the trespasses of prospectors on the public lands, this "hardrock" mining law truly embodies the spirit of the Old West and the independence of the miner. The era of disposal of the public lands into private hands is ending, however, and the door to such disposal was essentially shut with the enactment of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976. The mining industry itself has changed over the years, and the age of the individual, independent miner may also have passed. In light of these changes and the public's increased awareness of the environmental degradation that mining causes, the 1872 Mining Law is increasingly attacked as outmoded and obsolete. This Article reviews the Law, summarizing its contents and reviewing the changes that Congress has made to the Law over the century of its existence. The author concludes, however, that these changes are insufficient and calls for further reforms in order to bring the Law fully into the realities of the 20th century.

Mr. Squillace is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Wyoming's College of Law.

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