Associated with mining are many environmental concerns. Large-scale excavation is often necessary to extract a small amount of ore. Ore extraction disrupts the topsoil and can displace local animals and plants, and sometimes native human populations. Runoff can contaminate nearby water sources with pollutants such as the mercury and sodium cyanide used in gold mining. Waste materials and smelters can cause sulfurous dust clouds that result in acid rain. Abandoned strip mines have often been used as unregulated landfills for hazardous wastes. Several pieces of legislation in the United States, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (1977) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund Act (1986), address these issues, but enforcement has been difficult.
Another act that affects mining in the United States is the 1872 Mining Act. This now controversial act, which was originally designed to encourage settlement of the West, allows mining companies to purchase land for $2.50 per acre. In the late 20th cent., despite many efforts at reform, the law and the $2.50 per acre price still stood, despite the fact that the ore contained in the land could be worth billions of dollars.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.