Public land dirt cheap

Residents of Crested Butte, Colo., a high-mountain resort town where small lots sell for $100,000, were surprised and dismayed to learn recently that the federal government had sold 155 acres on a nearby mountain to the huge Phelps Dodge mining company for just $875. The company intends to mine the land and estimates earning $158 million in after-tax profits in 11 years. At least Phelps Dodge is an American company. A recent year-long study by the Environmental Working Group shows that foreign firms, taking advantage of the 1872 Mining Law that allows land to be given away for prices sometimes lower than a dollar an acre, now control one-fifth of the 9.3 million claimed acres in 11 Western states. Taxpayers already are spending billions to clean up toxins left by old, abandoned mines such as Iron Mountain in Shasta County. Companies now must post cleanup bonds, but too often cleanup costs exceed the bond amounts and the companies go bankrupt, leaving citizens with the bill. In addition, the EWG notes (, the Bush administration has significantly weakened the already weak environmental laws for mining. Here are some interesting stats the group gathered:

Metal mining’s percentage of all industrial pollution in 2001 46

Metal mining as a percentage of industrial operations 0.36

Total est. foreign-controlled acres in Nevada 787,341

Est. share of foreign-controlled claimed acres in Nevada 1 in 3.2

Total est. foreign-controlled acres in California 48,109

Est. share of foreign-controlled claimed acres in California 1 in 13.2

Total est. foreign-controlled acres in U.S 1,154,718

Total est. share foreign-controlled claimed acres in U.S. 1 in 4.8

Number of claim holders in Butte County 165

Est. acres of public land claimed in Butte County 5,017

Reimbursement to federal govt. for gold, silver, etc. taken in county $0