No law is truly written in stone. Not even those tablets Charlton Heston brought down from the top of Mount Hollywood in The Ten Commandments, which looked suspiciously like slabs of heavy cardboard. But some laws, as they age ungracefully, begin to resemble big cement blocks.
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Take, for example, the General Mining Law of 1872. Over the years various environmental interests have taken a run at reforming the law, which governs much of the mineral extraction in the United States, the federal government's ability to collect royalties on mining on public lands, and much more. And the effort has been like -- well, hitting a rock wall.
Ken Salazar, subject of my April feature "The Zen of Ken," has been one of those who'd like to see the law deal with the messy realities of mining in the 21st century. As a state attorney general, a Senator, and now as Secretary of the Interior, he's crusaded for revision of antiquated royalty schemes and stronger mine cleanup requirements. And today, he took his case to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, as it grapples with new hardrock mining and reclamation legislation.
"This statute has not been updated in 137 years," Salazar said. "It is time to make reform of the mining law part of our agenda of responsible resource development."
You can get the full text of Salazar's remarks here. For more on what can and does go wrong with reclamation of Colorado's hundreds of abandoned mines, check out "What Lies Beneath," a 2005 account of mining hell high in the San Juans.