DEEP CUT The Kennecott Copper Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah sits quiet after a landslide on April 11, 2013. The mine owner has suspended operations inside one of the world’s deepest open pits as geologists assess a landslide the company says it anticipated for months. (Photo: Ravell Call / The Deseret News via AP / NBC News)
You are not going to believe this, but mining public lands is governed by the brutal Mining Act of 1872. This act requires developers to mine certain public lands. (Seriously, it is an abhorrent law and Democrats wont touch it. See here). The law mandates that mining be the highest use of any conceivable land development uses - above roads, electricity, environmental, conservation, even water protection.
Worse, unlike drilling for oil, no royalties are due to the U.S. government for any minerals or metals found (including gold, diamonds, uranium, copper, etc.) A royalty is essentially a fee on every gallon of oil found in the ground. The fee per gallon is paid into the U.S. Treasury, and used to manage permitting and environmental impacts from drilling. In fact, oil royalties are the second highest amount of money collected by the Federal Government (second only to your federal income taxes!). Mining companies are exempt from royalties! I swear this is true!
It gets even worse. This particular mine is run by a foreign mining firm called Rio Tinto, based in the UK. They mine the copper and keep all the money - almost none of it stays in American hands. They pay no royalties, do not have to restore the land, pollute American air, lands, aquifers, and rivers (albeit via EPA permits). Brilliant!