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Stealing the West

A biotech gold rush may swamp companies seeking new patents from newly discovered bacteria

A new report by the Environmental Working Group has documented the shocking fact that 20 percent of the mineral wealth of the American West is owned by foreigners. The report, “Who Owns the West,” found that “ninety-four foreign-owned corporations from ten countries have collectively gained control of metals beneath one of every five acres of claimed lands in the United States, an estimated 1.2 million acres of public land altogether.”

The chief culprit for this giveaway is the Mining Act of 1872, written during the illustrious administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. Politics is the only possible explanation for why a grossly antiquated 132-year-old law still governs mineral extraction on federal lands. Decade after decade, mining interests have prevailed upon Congress to retain the law’s sweetheart provisions — federal land for the price of a cheeseburger, as one critic has put it. (At $2.50 to $5 an acre for mining rights, cheeseburger prices may actually be higher in some locales.)

Check out the Environmental Working Group website for much more on this topic, including a searchable database, an analysis of mining claims on 12 western states, and links to activist groups seeking to re-write the 1872 Mining Act.