Photo of a mine near Patagonia, Arizona. Words by Bikepacking Roots’ Board Member Loren Mason-Gere.

Like the presence of underground mineral deposits themselves, much of the USA’s mining activity and correlating legislation lurks just below our feet, yet entirely out of sight.  The current movement for domestic extraction of minerals needed for the electric vehicle transition, however, demands that we keep these issues in sight. As domestic extraction ramps up, international mining interests find themselves in a new climate, favorable to their bottom lines. With political pressures aligned with their extraction goals, a slew of new mining projects are emerging across the country. With them comes a drive to relax what little legal oversights currently exist on hardrock mineral extraction. 

In the past few years, there have been a number of high-profile conflicts between mining projects and important outdoor recreation areas, including a number of destinations popular for backcountry travel – including bikepacking. 

While we respect the complex nature of current hardrock mining projects, given the importance of economic renewal and a move away from carbon-fuels, the use of public lands should balance the social, environmental and economic needs of the populace. Current legislation before congress prioritizes extraction and corporate interests above all other interests. Among the most important of these is The Mining Regulatory Clarity Act (H.R. 2925). This quiet assault on public lands passed in the House last week. We wait with bated breath as this silent killer of public land protections is now moving forward for Congressional approval. 

Upending over 100 years of public lands precedent, the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act (MRCA) is an unabashed assault on the communal property we all rely on. If the future of our natural spaces concerns you, if you live, work, play, ride or bikepack on public lands anywhere in the nation, this issue demands your immediate attention. 

The MRCA emerged in response to the recent Rosemont Decision in Arizona. Under this ruling, a private mining corporation was prevented from dumping mine tailings and wastewater on public lands adjacent to property on which they hold claim. In an effort to prevent such “restrictions” from reoccurring the extraction lobby helped craft this bill to guarantee their corporate partners unfettered access to our public lands. 

Currently, the USA’s mining laws are defined by The Mining Law of 1872. This wildly outdated hardrock mining oversight is based on pre-industrialized science and mining practices. Given the scope and scale of modern industrialized mining, the current laws are giving away publicly owned resources to private mining interests at rapid and uncontrolled rates. Updates to that law are urgently needed, but the MRCA moves things in the wrong direction. 

Among the few restrictions in the 1872 law is the requirement that for a party to claim public lands, they must prove the existence of the minerals they intend to extract. 

Under the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act, this requirement would be eliminated, allowing mining corporations to stake claim – and thus control access and development – on any public land, at any time – one of the biggest giveaways of public lands and legislative oversight in history. 

This law would undermine the federal government’s authority to safeguard public lands by giving mining claimants an unrestricted legal right to permanently occupy any public land they choose. This prioritizes mining above all other uses – from environmental protection and recreation to alternate industrial uses such as transmission lines, wind farms and solar fields. If any such users demanded access to lands “claimed” by mining interests, they could only be required to do so if the federal government “bought” back the land mining companies were given.  This would also hinder the creation of new trail systems and other recreation opportunities.

Having now passed in the House of Representatives, we’re but one small step from the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act coming into law, ushering in a new era of unrestricted and ungoverned extraction, dumping and developing of our shared public land resources. The Senate now holds the keys to the future of environmental protection and public land access for generations to come. It is imperative that we act.

Please hit the link below and take a moment to make your voice heard. It is time we take a stand for our lands, bring a halt to sneaky underground industry “reforms” and work together to move our economy towards a sustainable future in the right way.   

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