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National Mining and Minerals Act (1970)

National Mining and Minerals Act (1970)


The Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970 was the first of a series of efforts by the United States Congress to address the seeming lack of a coordinated and comprehensive federal minerals policy. The act directed the Secretary of the Interior to follow a policy that encouraged the private mining sector in four ways: to develop a financially viable and stable domestic mining sector, to develop domestic mineral sources in an orderly manner, to conduct research to further "wise and efficient use" of these minerals, and to develop methods of mineral extraction and processing that would be as environmentally benign as possible. Given the broad and vague nature of these directives, it is difficult to determine what, if any, effect the law has had. For example, the U.S. Department of the Interior's report on the bill found that it did not provide the department any new authority. There was one clear directive included in the law: the Secretary of the Interior was to report to Congress annually on the mining industry and to make any legislative recommendations to help the industry at that time.

Two additional general mining policy laws were passed within fifteen years of the Mining and Minerals Policy Act. The National Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act was passed in 1980. Like the 1970 Act, this law was an effort to develop a coordinated national minerals policy. But, like its predecessor, this law also had little effect due to its lack of specifics. The 1984 National Critical Materials Act underscored the concern among some in Congress that the United States had become vulnerable, due to foreign dependence, in the supply of such strategic defense and high technology minerals as cobalt and platinum group metals. This law was also filled with vague generalities, though it did create a three-person National Critical Materials Council and charged this Council with overseeing minerals policy. As with the prior two acts, the 1984 law has seemingly had little effect.

The growing concern for mineral policy in the 1970s and 1980s can be traced to three sources: administrative law and capacity, environmental concerns, and national security concerns. The federal government had little control over mining policy. On federal lands, mining policy had been essentially privatized by the 1872 Mining Law. Individuals or private firms could stake claims on public lands and remove the minerals; the government received no royalties and issued no permits. The mining policy regime was also fragmented. Three agencies had major roles in mining policy: the Bureau of Land Management , the Bureau of Mines, and the United States Geological Survey . Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, concern for the environment grew in the country, and a significant concern of environmentalists was mining operations, which often generated large amounts of pollution and had significant effects on the land. Hence, environmentalists successfully sought to restrict mining in certain areas and regulate the mining that continued. Partially in response to the reduced access and increased regulation, the mining industry and its supporters began to focus on the United States's foreign dependence on strategic minerals . They argued that more lands should be open to mining, and regulations should be relaxed. Despite the passage of these three laws, though, no significant change in federal mining policy has occurred.

See also Environmental law; Environmental policy; Natural resources

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS


Leshy, J. D. The Mining Law: A Study in Perpetual Motion. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1987.

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