The General Mining Law of 1872 is one of the major statutes that direct the federal government's land management policy. The law grants free access to individuals and corporations to prospect for minerals in public domain lands, and allows them, upon making a discovery, to stake (or "locate") a claim on that deposit. A claim gives the holder the right to develop the minerals and may be "patented" to convey full title to the claimant. A continuing issue is whether this law should be reformed, and if so, how to balance mineral development with competing land uses. The right to enter the public domain and freely prospect for and develop minerals is the feature of the claim-patent system that draws the most vigorous support from the mining industry. Critics consider the claim-patent system a giveaway of publicly owned resources because of the small amounts paid to maintain a claim and to obtain a patent. In addition to the general issue of whether to reform the General Mining Law, two issues also have been controversial. One involves mining millsites. At issue is whether the General Mining Law limits claimants to one millsite of no more than five acres per mining claim, or whether multiple millsites are allowed. A second issue involves the Clinton Administration's revisions to the regulations governing hardrock mining operations on federal lands (43 CFR 3809), which took effect January 20, 2001. The revised regulations authorized BLM to deny mining operations if they would result in "substantial irreparable harm" to significant resources that cannot be mitigated, and made mining operators more responsible for reclaiming mined land.
CRS Issue Brief for Congress, IB89130