National Geographic : 1994 Feb
MI IN A line drawn in the earth " ast free lunch on the old mlfrontier," it's been called-the Mining Law of 1872. Designed to encourage settlement of the West, the law does not require hard rock mining companies to pay royalties to the U. S. gov ernment and allows them to obtain title, or patents, to public lands for between $2.50 and $5 an acre-the price set 120 years ago. In Montana a company has applied for patents to 2,300 acres of platinum and palla dium deposits worth billions of dollars. Cost of the patents: $10,000. Foreign companies can also benefit from the lenient law. A Canadian ven ture has been mining almost half a billion dollars a year in gold from a site in Nevada. Taxpayers will incur fur ther losses as bills come due for cleanup of abandoned sites. The Mineral Policy Cen ter says it may cost 70 billion dollars to reclaim non-coal mines that pose health and environmental problems. The 1872 Mining Law is now under review by Congress.