Despite critics who insist the Mining Law of 1872 hasn't been changed in years, top Nevada resources attorney Richard Harris insists the mining law is being rewritten every single year by congressional budget resolutions.
In a speech to the Geological Society of Nevada, Harris noted that the current $125 per claim maintenance fee and the Small Miner's Exemption both were the result of budget resolutions introduced during the administration of then-President Bill Clinton.
Ironically, former President Clinton-whose Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt regularly battled the domestic hardrock mining industry-now raises funds for his William J. Clinton foundation with the help of mining merchant banker Frank Guistra. The two men have partnered on the Clinton Guistra Sustainable Growth Initiative.
One of the worse mining related pieces to emerge through the congressional budget process, Harris asserts, is the Small Miners' Exemption (SME) imposed in 1992. Originally intended as a benefit to small miners, Harris said it has now become a death trap for the unwary.
Harris told the geologists at the GSN meeting-a number of whom are independent, small miners-that the Small Miner's Exemption imposes four separate requirements on the small miner. Failure to fulfill any of those requirements results in the forfeiture of a mining claim, he explained.
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Now you have four opportunities to screw up and fail, and most people do, he noted.
Harris urged the geologists to get out of the SME as quick as you can.
Meanwhile, claim maintenance fees, which originally were generated by another 1992 congressional budget resolution that intended they be temporary, were made permanent by a budget law, Public Law 110-161. Should a claim holder fail to pay the fee, the claim becomes void and can be immediately staked by a myriad of lode or placer claims depending on the situation.
In addition, the State of Nevada requires the recording of claims by county affidavit, which has become a source of funds for the Nevada Commission on Minerals, Harris said. Nevertheless, he advised, the state requirement provides an additional protection of legal right over the claim.
Various incarnations of U.S. mining law can be found in statutes and amendments, federal regulations, state laws regarding location of claims, judicial and administrative decisions, and miners' custom and practices, as well as congressional budget resolutions. The result, he said, can best be described as accumulations of barnacles on a ship's hull.
Harris noted the 1872 Mining Law was the last of the public lands laws enacted during the 1800s.