PUBLIC DOMAIN, PRIVATE DOMINION: A History of Public Mineral Policy in America by Carl J. & George A. Riley Mayer

PUBLIC DOMAIN, PRIVATE DOMINION: A History of Public Mineral Policy in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The fight book at the wrong time. From the days of the California gold rush to the more recent ""sagebrush rebellion"" against federal ownership of large sections of the West, how to distribute America's public lands has been a bitterly contentious issue. Miners always have managed to get more than their fair share. In minute detail, Mayer and Riley examine the scandalous history of American mining laws. Americans collectively own almost one-third of the country's land, along with its incomparable mineral fiches, as well as billions of acres of the continental shelf. Yet while individuals must pay to picnic in a national park, the 1872 Mining Law still permits corporations to take bard-rock minerals free of charge from public lands. Other laws allow them to lease common lands at ludicrously low rates--from $.50 an acre for oil-shale lands to $3 an acre for lands containing oil and natural gas. Speculation is rife. For example, the Hunt brothers, better known for trying to corner the world silver market a few years back, have made a lot of money buying and then selling one-fifth of all leases on federal lands with geothermal energy potential, without producing one BTU--all perfectly legal. To make matters worse, the government loses hundreds of millions of dollars in annual oil and gas royalties alone through outfight theft and calculated underpayment by energy companies. According to Mayer and Riley, the history of the public domain has been ""mired in myth and misconception""--particularly the belief that the mining laws protect the ""little guy."" However, the large corporations, mostly the oil companies that have dominated the mining industry for decades, are hardly the impoverished prospectors of the past, immortalized by the likes of Louis L'Amour and Clint Eastwood. The authors suggest, among other things, that the 1872 Mining Law be repealed and the entire leasing system reformed; that continued exploration of public lands be tied to development of alternative energy resources like solar power; and that public institutions emphasize common ownership and respect for the public's mineral estate. Sensible suggestions that should be required reading for all those involved in federal land policy.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1985
Publisher: Sierra Club--dist. by Random House