Mining needs constant vigilance

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By The Staff

Mining underpins our way of life. Nature may be the champion excavator, if one considers sculpted peaks and canyons. But with man-made mines like the Berkeley pit in Butte, Mont., man gets an “A” for effort. And then too, mines linger on, because they are frequently not adequately cleaned up afterward, even in violation of regulations and statutes.

The Jemez Mountains were mined until recently, partly because of national vanity. In the 1980s, when Don Johnson starred in “Miami Vice,” laundry pumice was used to stonewash denim clothing. In 1992, domestic laundry-pumice sales maxed out at an estimated $15,000,000.  

Because the mineral was “valuable,” the laundry-pumice mines took on the same legal status as gold – the formal term is “locatable” – under the 1872 Mining Law, which frustrates modern mining law and spawns bad actors. No royalties are paid by 1872-Law mines.

Times change. Putting rocks in washing machines was of dubious utility and enzymes beat out stonewashing. In the early ’90s, the 58,000-acre Jemez National Recreation Area (JNRA), consisting of riparian corridors within the Santa Fe National Forest, was sponsored by then-Rep. Bill Richardson. In this special district all new mines other than 1872-Law mines are prohibited.

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