Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus called yesterday for an end to "uncontrolled mining" on public lands and for replacement of the 1872 mining act with a new law.
Testifying before a House Interior subcommittee, Andrus advocated abolishing the present system, under which miners obtain automatic title to [WORLD ILLEGIBLE] lands where they have [WORD ILLEGIBLE] marketable hardrock minerals.
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] set out by President Carter [WORD ILLEGIBLE] May environmental message, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a leasing system reclamation requirements and royalties for the federal treasury should be adopted, Andrus said.
Such changes, embodied in a bill introduced by Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), would bring mining for copper, zinc, lead, uranium, gold, silver and other hardrock minerals under regulations similiar to those that now apply to coal, oil and gas on public lands.
However, the proposals have stirred powerful opposition in the Western states and in the industry, which is suffering economic setbacks. Last month, Interior Committee chairman Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.) withdrew his 10-year support for a new mining bill, similar to Burto's, and endorsed an industry proposal sponsored by Rep. Philip E. Ruppe (R-Mich.).
"I have 12,000 people in my state out of work," Udall said yesterday, referring to copper company layoffs, prompted by low prices and a surplus in the world market. "The psychology of the industry is very down."
Andrus acknowledged the "deep emotion" aroused by proposed changes in the eact but denied they would have an adverse economic effect. "Mining is a principal industry in many of our Western states," said the former Idaho governor, "and when that industry sneezes, too often an entire state runs a fever."
Rep. James Santini (D-Nev.), angrily replied that, far from sneezing. "You've got an industry with pneumonia, in the last stages of expiration. This [Burton bill] is kicking the patient when he's down."
However, Andrus maintained that the bill would help the industry by halting massive withdrawals of public land from mining. Roughy 60 per cent of public land, mostly in Western states, has been closed to mining by departmental order because present law allows no environmental regulation.
The Burton bill, Andrus said, "will ensure that [mining] is done in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner."
Before granting a lease, the government would require information about mining, milling and transportation methods and the environmental and social impacts of development. It could deny leases incompatible with land use plans for the area.
The bill represents a sharp departure from the current system, under which a mining company, can after making a discovery, can obtain title to minerals and the land above them. Once the claim is patented, the government has no control over mining practices other than through water and air-pollution laws.
Under the Burton bill, no person could lease more than 5,100 acres in any one state or more than 51,200 acres overall. The bill would require miners to pay royalties to the federal treasury on the minerals they extract.
"The public should receive payment for the use of land that belongs to the public," Andrus said.
The new bill represents a dramatic change in philosophy since 1872, "when there was a need to open up and develop the Western United States," Andrus said. "One way to do that was by giving away public lands to . . . those who would homestead. to the railroads . . . to those miners who would find mineral deposits and develop them.
"We were willing to develop our natural resources in reckless fashion a century ago because they seemed inexhaustible . . . But today we can no longer afford to develop them at the expense of other land uses."
The Ruppe bill is supported by large mining companies, but not by small ones, which oppose any change at all. It would amend the 1872 act to allow companies title to the minerals, but not the surface land. It would provide for royalties but would not establish a leasing program.