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Babbitt renews call for revising mining law
Babbitt renews call for revising mining law

Associated Press Interior Secretary wants option to turn down mining claims on federal land

WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, never shy about criticizing the 1872 law governing mining on federal land, is doing it again.

Babbitt says the White Vulcan pumice mine on the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks is "a poster child for abuses" of the law.

The mine near Flagstaff, Ariz., is part of the Coconino National Forest under the Agriculture Department, not Interior, but Babbitt still was speaking out.

The law lets companies buy land for as little as $2.50 an acre to mine hardrock minerals such as gold, silver and copper. Companies are not required to pay royalties to the government for the minerals they get.

Pumice, a lightweight, gritty volcanic rock used in making concrete and stonewashed blue jeans, is considered a hardrock mineral when it is mined in large enough chunks.

"The abuse in this case is staking a mining claim, not for some mineral that's necessary for industry or national security, but for the stonewashing of blue jeans," Babbitt said Monday before visiting the mine.

A receptionist at Tufflite Inc., the Phoenix-based company which owns the White Vulcan mine, referred questions to company lawyer Doug Martin, who declined to comment.

Babbitt said the law should be changed to give federal officials the option to turn down mining claims on federal land. The only way to do that now is through a cumbersome process of removing an entire area from any possible mining claims or creating a national monument.

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