Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Congress approved a short, clear policy statement “to foster and encourage private enterprise” in the mining of minerals and metals while ensuring appropriate reclamation of the land.

Summary of Event

On the last day of 1970, Congress established the Mining and Minerals Act. The act, introduced by Republican senator Gordon Llewellyn Allott of Colorado and discussed and debated by the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (chaired by Democratic senator Scoop Jackson from the state of Washington), reaffirmed several concepts, including the United States’s reliance on private enterprise to develop economically sound and stable mining industries as well as the need to consider reclamation and recycling. It did not essentially amend previous U.S. mining laws. Mining and Minerals Act (1970) Natural resources [kw]Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act (Dec. 31, 1970) [kw]Mining and Minerals Act, Congress Approves the (Dec. 31, 1970) [kw]Act, Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals (Dec. 31, 1970) Mining and Minerals Act (1970) Natural resources [g]North America;Dec. 31, 1970: Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act[11120] [g]United States;Dec. 31, 1970: Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act[11120] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Dec. 31, 1970: Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act[11120] [c]Natural resources;Dec. 31, 1970: Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act[11120] [c]Environmental issues;Dec. 31, 1970: Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act[11120] [c]Business and labor;Dec. 31, 1970: Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act[11120] Allott, Gordon Llewellyn Jackson, Scoop

The General Mining Act General Mining Act (1872) of 1872 had stated that mineral reserves on public land were open to exploration and purchase by private individuals. This early law established guidelines for persons to stake out and acquire a claim. The Mineral Leasing Act Mineral Leasing Act (1920) of 1920 recognized that some deposits were impossible to work as small claims and allowed the federal government to lease public lands to developers. This promoted the mining of coal, oil, gas, oil shale, sodium, phosphate, potash, sand, clay, gravel, and sulfur on public lands. As a result of these early laws, mining in the United States remained a private industry. Transfer of property rights remained a matter of negotiation and mutual agreement. States provided additional regulations concerning mineral rights, right of access, and similar issues.

The 1970 act confirmed that private enterprise was to continue to mine and reclaim minerals and metals. The rationale for further development was to serve the needs of industry, national security, and the environment. The act also encouraged the private sector to continue research in these fields, including research on recycling, disposal, control, reclamation of waste products and mined land, and other adverse impacts from mining on the environment. After asserting this policy position, the short act concluded by giving the secretary of the interior the responsibility for reporting to Congress on the state of domestic mining in a regular annual report.

Much of this policy concerned lands in the public domain. At the founding of the United States, the federal government had no federal lands, as all territory fell within the jurisdiction of the original thirteen states. Federal lands originated when the regions now constituting Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, as well as portions of Mississippi and Alabama, were ceded to the federal government by the adjacent eastern states. The Louisiana Purchase provided 2.6 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) that extended to the Rocky Mountains.

Annexation of Texas, a treaty with Mexico, and the Gadsden Purchase filled the contiguous U.S. border. Private land titles were recognized, but unclaimed expanses of land were left to the federal government. For this reason, public lands are concentrated in the western third of the United States and still constitute about one-third of total land area.

Although the 1970 policy statement was fairly clear in expressing the congressional intention to keep development of mining, reclamation, and recycling in the private sector, a substantial number of other acts and executive orders placed restrictions on the purchase of public lands and the disposition of certain permitted activities. Developers had to follow provisions of the Reclamation Act of 1902, the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Trails System Act, the Coastal Zone Protection Act, a Protection of Wetlands order, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, the Antiquities Act, the Archeological and Historical Preservation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, and others.

In addition, more than one dozen environmental laws were enacted between 1970 and 1980 that restricted some mining activities to protect air and water quality. Acts that required disposal of wastes or discharges from mining operations included the Refuse Act of 1899, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and the very important Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.


Any good environmental intentions that could be read into the policy were far less important than the day-to-day economic considerations. The volatile international energy market of the 1970’s played havoc with any policies that lacked provisions for implementation. The price of coal, for example, fluctuated dramatically with the price of oil; in 1974, coal prices averaged $15 per ton but ranged from $7 to as high as $70 per ton. When oil prices soared, the Federal Energy Administration required seventy-four power plants in operation to convert to coal fuel, and forty-seven plants under construction were required to incorporate coal-burning units that would meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pollution controls. Consideration was also given to developing the technology to extract fluid fuels from coal. When, within a decade, oil prices dropped and coal prices fell as well, conversion systems were no longer cost-effective and the need for coal decreased. The only regulations that could survive in this era were those that recognized such economic realities.

With the implementation of the Wilderness Act of 1964, more than two-thirds of public lands were eventually closed or in some way restricted from mineral exploration and development. This was particularly true in Alaska, where public lands were a major portion of the land’s purchase from Russia in 1867. Across the United States, mineral policy was altered. Private enterprise was still responsible for developing mineral resources, but the private sector had to supply minerals from an ever-shrinking portion of available public land.

Beyond the affirmation that the private sector was in charge of development and research, the incorporation of environmental considerations reflected the intent to curtail the rights of property owners to some extent. The act was not, however, extensively used for legal precedence. The specific regulatory acts affected property owners and mine operators more directly.

By keeping the costs for mineral exploration, mine development, and eventually reclamation in the private sector, the Mining and Minerals Act kept the government from becoming deeply involved in an expensive and risky business. Regulatory agencies with inspectors, however, and research on health and safety unrelated to the development of mineral resources fell outside the private sector and required a funding source. Many of the acts that followed the 1970 Mining and Minerals Act therefore relied on general tax funds; in some cases, expenses were charged to companies where appropriate. Some states levied property taxes, severance taxes, or production royalties. Because taxes were, however, often based on assessed value, companies could limit their exploration to minimize payments, which led to underestimation of proven reserves.

Another aspect of keeping mining private was international economics. Private companies generally managed to produce and trade in a fluid and sometimes volatile international market, regardless of revolutions and diplomatic disputes. Occasionally, mineral-producing countries banded together to form consortia to control the supply and thereby the price of various commodities; this was done by the oil-producing countries of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and the diamond-trading companies of deBeers. Although the United States desired to maintain mineral mining under private enterprise and free trade, many other nations preferred to run nationalized industries or to establish subsidies. As with many aspects of the 1970 act, private-sector management of mining continued to be a very complex matter with both positive and negative effects. Mining and Minerals Act (1970) Natural resources

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barnhisel, Richard I., et al., eds. Reclamation of Drastically Disturbed Lands. Madison, Wis.: American Society of Agronomy, 2000. Focuses mainly on reclamation legislation, techniques, soil and climatic factors, acid mine drainage, and mulches and revegetation of coal strip mines. Also addresses the reclamation of phosphate, oil shale, and other noncoal surface mines.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dennen, William H. Mineral Resources: Geology, Exploration, and Development. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1989. A clearly written and well-documented introduction to the formation of mineral deposits, exploration, mining and processing, and the economics and legal framework for the mining enterprise.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fung, R., ed. Surface Coal Mining Technology: Engineering and Environmental Aspects. Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Data, 1981. Extensive black-and-white photographs and diagrams provide a good description of many engineering problems, including those of the reclamation process, in strip-mining various environments. Covers fairly complex concepts in mine engineering.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoppe, R., ed. E/MJ Operating Handbook of Mineral Surface Mining and Exploration. New York: E/MJ Mining Informational Services, 1978. A collection of articles from the Engineering and Mining Journal that provides well-illustrated and easily understood descriptions of the variations of mining practices in use.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Humphries, Marc. “Mining in Federal Land.” In Public Lands: Current Issues and Perspectives, edited by V. V. Donn. New York: Nova Science, 2003. A study of the mining of federal-government lands, part of a collection addressing public land issues and controversies in the early twenty-first century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Klyza, Christopher McGrory. “Reform at a Geological Pace: Mining Policy on Federal Lands.” In Western Public Lands and Environmental Politics, edited by Charles Davis. 2d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2001. Examines the slow pace of federal mining policy in the U.S. West. Part of a collection looking at the politics of environmental legislation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rowe, James E., ed. Coal Surface Mining: Impacts of Reclamation. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979. A collection of articles that focuses on the economic, environmental, and legal aspects of surface mining; also discusses reclamation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wali, Mohan K., ed. Ecology and Coal Resource Development. Vols. 1 and 2. New York: Pergamon Press, 1979. More than 120 brief articles, averaging about seven pages each, that summarize isolated problems in the strip mining of coal and the restoration of the environment. Discusses the planning, economics, legislation, reclamation techniques, and ecology for specific cases.

Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management

Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act

Clean Air Act Grants Federal Authority to Regulate Air Pollution

Wilderness Act Is Passed

Congress Establishes the Public Land Law Review Commission

Alaskan Oil Discovery Sparks Controversy

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 Is Signed

Natural Resources Defense Council Is Founded

Resource Recovery Act Is Passed

Categories: History