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U.S. Department of the Interior

Office of the Secretary Contact: John Wright

For Immediate Release: January 28, 1997 202/208-6416

Secretary Babbitt Pleased With Court Decision On Mining Law
Circuit Court decision supports tightening administration of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law

In a decision handed down January 23, 1997, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims made by Independence Mining Company to prevent the Secretary of the Interior from giving close scrutiny to the company’s applications to privatize (“patent”) over a thousand acres of federal land. Independence Mining Company is seeking patents to federal land to gain complete ownership of the land and minerals at its Jerritt Canyon Mine in Nevada, thus avoiding any royalty the Congress might enact in the future on gold mining from federal lands.

“I am pleased that the federal court of appeals has left in place my policy of tightening administration of the notorious ‘patent’ provision of the antiquated Mining Law of 1872, a law blatantly out of step with the times,” Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said.

Currently, hardrock mining companies pay no royalty to the federal government (even though they routinely pay royalties to state, private, and foreign landowners). The Clinton Administration has consistently supported reform that would include a meaningful royalty, but Congress has refused to enact one. The 104th Congress included a royalty in its budget reconciliation bill last year, but it was vetoed by President Clinton because it was so riddled with loopholes that even the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would produce almost no revenue.

“I am particularly pleased that the Court’s decision acknowledges what we have been trying to convince Congress for years -- that a mineral patent is not necessary for prosperous mining operations to exist,” said Babbitt. “I once again call on Congress to reform the Mining Law so that the American people get a fair return on the minerals that they own.”

Beginning in 1994, Congress has annually imposed a moratorium on new patent applications, but allowed processing of over 300 existing patent applications. The 104th Congress directed that the Secretary of the Interior make decisions on 90 percent of the grandfathered applications within five years. The Independence Mining Company application is one of those grandfathered, but the court decision handed down last week ensures that it and all other patent applications will be given careful scrutiny under Secretary Babbitt’s policy to ensure that the company has met all the requirements of the old law before a patent is issued.

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