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Changes in the Political and Social Framework of United States Mineral Resource Development, 1905–1980

Eugene N. Cameron
Eugene N. Cameron
Department of Geology and Geophysics, The University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706
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January 01, 1981


The period 1905 to 1980 brought many changes in mining law, land policy, mineral taxation, trade policy, and environmental regulation in the United States. In mining law, the chief changes affected mineral development on the public domain. The claim system of the Mining Law of 1872 was supplemented and partly replaced by a leasing system, an assertion of the doctrine of sovereign rights.

Despite changes, both claim and leasing systems were aimed at providing access to the public domain for purposes of mineral development. Land policy, however, placed increasing restrictions on access. By the end of 1979, large areas of the public domain were closed or effectively closed to mineral exploration and development, and additional withdrawals and restrictions were under consideration.

In 1905, taxation on the American mining industry was relatively light. Beginning in the 1910s, however, tax measures proliferated, and levels of taxation increased. By 1980, the burden of taxation had become a significant factor in decisions regarding mineral exploration and development.

United States trade policy affecting domestic mineral development varied greatly from 1905 to 1934. After 1934, however, trade policy made an effort to achieve the freest possible international trade. Deterioration of the mineral position of the United States became accepted as the price of providing mineral raw materials to the consumer at the lowest possible cost. In view of growing deficiencies in mineral supply from domestic sources, stockpiles of minerals were created to provide protection from interruptions in the flow of minerals from abroad. On occasion, stockpiles were used in efforts to influence mineral markets.

A growing concern over the impact of mining and mineral use on the environment and on public health and safety led in the 1960s and 1970s to increasingly stringent regulation. Great strides were made in protecting the environment, but the measures taken involved substantial costs to the American mining industry. As the 1970s closed, the nation was still struggling to achieve a suitable balance between its needs for environmental protection and its needs for mineral raw materials.

The changes cited above reflect changing social attitudes toward development of the mineral resources of the United States. The cumulative effect has been substantial alteration of the social and political framework within which mineral development must take place.

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Economic Geology Publishing Company

Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume

Brian J. Skinner
Brian J. Skinner
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Society of Economic Geologists
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Publication date:
January 01, 1981




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