The Truth Will Set You Free .....
The US government practically gives away valuable land to corporate interests!
It stands to reason that land loaded with gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and other prized minerals would command huge prices. But, as with so many other things, reason has nothing to do with it. The government sells the rights to mine public land for amounts that a schoolkid could buy with allowance money.
It happens under the 1872 Mining Law, which set the prices for mineral rights. Unfortunately, nobody has updated the amounts in the intervening 130+ years, which means that we're stuck with a ridiculous situation.
Just how ridiculous? The Environmental Working Group spent a year gathering data and crunching numbers on the mineral rights to public land in the eleven westernmost states of the continental US, plus Montana.
Depending on how many acres are at issue, you can snatch the mineral rights to public land for 84 cents to $6.75 per acre, with a yearly renewal fee of 52 cents to $5 an acre.
Since 1992, Congress has tacked on an additional $100 annual renewal fee per tract of land (not per acre), but even this token effort is a stop-gap measure. They have yet to make it permanent.
Just to make things even more absurd, it's been possible to outright buy the public land, not just the right to mine it, for a little more: $4.06 to $17.10 per acre, depending on total number of acres and the type of mining you want to do. Each year since 1994, Congress has passed an annual moratorium on the ability to purchase land this way, but it refuses to permanently ban the practice.
When the Working Group published its report in 2004, the mining rights for almost 5,570,000 acres of public land had been claimed this way. On top of that, an additional 3,718,000 acres had been flat-out purchased through this form of legalized theft. All told, these lands are controlled by over 26,000 individuals, 2,270 US companies, and 94 foreign companies. (These non-US corporations own over one-fifth of the claimed lands.) As in most things economic, concentration rears its head: "Ten companies and individuals control 21 percent of claimed lands on US public lands, "says the EWG.
The owners of the mineral rights and/or the land itself have to plunk down only the nominal fees listed above; they pay the US nothing based on the value of the minerals they mine (in other words, no "royalties" like those rendered by coal, gas, and oil companies). Theoretically, the government could at least see some money based on taxes of the resulting corporate profits, but since the majority of corporations don't pay income tax, this revenue stream is nothing more than a trickle.
As the icing on this demented cake, the government (read: taxpayers) ends up footing the bill for dealing with the pollution and devastation caused by the private mining of these so-called public lands. The mining of metal requires a tiny 0.36 percent of all "industrial facilities," yet it accounts for 46 percent of all industrial pollution.
The Working Group points out some ludicrous real-life examples of the 1872 Mining Law in action:
Land in Crested Butte, Colorado - a ski resort town - goes for a million dollars per acre. The government sold land nearby for $5.64 an acre. The mining company that bought the prime real estate for pocket money estimated that it would net $158 million over the next eleven years.
The Canadian corporation Barrick Gold paid a measly $10,000 for 1,800 acres of Nevada containing an estimated 17.5 million ounces of gold. Bruce Babbit, then Secretary of the Interior, resisted the sale until forced by a court order to proceed. He summed up: "What I'm wondering is why I'm giving $10 billion of the ...assets owned by American citizens to a company that's not even an American company?"
A joint mining venture of Chevron and Stillwater Mining Company scored an even bigger take. For their $10,000, they outright bought 1,800 acres of national forest in Montana. As the Working Group points out, they "gained platinum and palladium reserves worth more than $35 billion, a return of $3.5 million for every one dollar received by the federal government."
In some cases, individuals have grabbed public land for a pittance, then sold it for a fortune. One case involves Yucca Mountain, which will soon be home ti the nuclear waste of the entire country. When the location of this toxic super-storage facility was announced, some person hotfooted it to the appropriate government office and laid claim to some of the land. Instead of holding onto it to block the plans for an atomic waste dump, he forced the government to pay $250,000 to get back its land.
As noted above, Congress passes temporary measures to make the law's application less ridiculous, but they're too beholden to powerful corporate interests to do anything forceful and lasting: