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U.S. Court Rules Citizens Can't Challenge Mining Claims

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

In a landmark decision, citizens of Crested Butte, Colo., were told they have no right to challenge the Interior Department’s giveaway of public land in their backyards.

Last year, the Bush Administration sold exploration rights on 155 mountain tops near the community to a multi-national mining company for $875. This prompted a swift challenge from citizens who use the mountains for skiing, camping and hiking.

Now a the Bush-appointed federal judge, Marcia Kreiger, has ruled that under the 1872 mining law, Interior has “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits by citizens, who are merely “unrelated third parties.” The law was originally meant to encourage development of the West, but has now turned into a 21st-century giveaway to industry polluters and multinationals who are allowed to establish claims to public lands for pennies.

Judge Krieger acknowledged that “social issues and concerns have changed” since the law was enacted and that citizens are now concerned with environmental and recreational issues, rather than easy access to mineral rights. Members of Congress have suggested changing the archaic law to better reflect the public’s priorities, but so far nothing has come of it. Until the law is changed, citizens will be powerless to stop the government from giving away our natural treasures for exploitation by oil & gas and mining companies.


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