National Geographic piece
Videos of teenagers flipping off a roof or crazy animal tricks are often the most viewed films on YouTube.com, but this week a more serious topic is capturing viewers’ interest. The six-minute film, “U.S. Mining Law Contested” featuring the Town of Crested Butte is moving up the ranks of fan favorites and gaining steam as bloggers debate the 1872 Mining Law—a law the U.S. Senate is also considering right now.
The YouTube.com video is a shortened version of the show titled “Wild Chronicles” produced by National Geographic. “Wild Chronicles” airs nationally on public television stations and is funded by the National Geographic Society Mission Programs.
Field producer Hans Rosenwinkel says the idea for the piece was inspired by the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, which assisted with the story line. The Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining is a national effort of The Pew Charitable Trusts, to educate and encourage the public and policymakers to adopt a modern framework for mining in the West.
Rosenwinkel says the episode’s topic—mining reform—complemented the show’s environmental focus, while also providing an opportunity to educate the public.
Jane Danowitz, national director for the Pew campaign, says the video illustrates what happens when a 19th century law governs 21st mining practices.
“The 1872 Mining Law allows international corporations to mine wherever they want on public lands and extract metals without payment,” Danowitz says. “This film shines a light on these practices and encourages change.”
The 1872 Mining Law allows the transfer of public lands for mining claims at the cost of $5 per acre. Congress has tried to amend the 1872 Mining Law several times in the previous 135 years, including 12 years ago, when both the House and the Senate passed reform bills, but Congress adjourned before the two chambers could reach an agreement.
However, reform was re-energized when the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2262, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007, in November last year. The bill was introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) and later co-sponsored by Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.)
The bill was referred to the U.S. Senate in November and assigned to the Senate Committee on Energy and Resources, which held oversight hearings on the bill last month. Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz and town officials Susan Parker and John Belkin testified at the hearings.
Bernholtz, along with representatives from the Western Mining Action Program and the National Mining Association, were interviewed for the piece. The National Mining Association (NMA) is the voice of the United States mining industry and advocates on behalf of it regarding legislation and regulation. Rosenwinkel says the intent of the piece was to present the issue and let the viewer make his or her own decision.
Danowitz says the show’s balanced approach allows viewers to see the faults in the law rather than focusing on the issue of mining. She says even advocates of the industry agree reform is needed.
“(The piece) focuses on the ‘why’ aspect. It shows why the law must be modernized and it does it in a very sound and balanced fashion,” Danowitz says.
The video showcases Crested Butte and the proposed Lucky Jack molybdenum mine on Mount Emmons. Lucky Jack is owned and operated by Kobex Resources Ltd. and U.S. Energy Corp.
Rosenwinkel says National Geographic chose Crested Butte because the citizens have been very vocal about the proposed Lucky Jack mine. “It’s a good example of local people working to stop a potentially harmful mine,” Rosenwinkel says.
Roger Flynn with Western Mining Action Program says the video also shows how the 1872 Mining Law puts mining above other values such as recreation and tourism and the negative impacts that can have on local communities. He says it highlights the importance for reform.
“The message of the film is that 1872 Mining Law was enacted during a much different time and it’s time for change,” Flynn says. “It shows that you must balance the uses of public lands.”
The video had received more than 21,000 hits as of press time and more than 70 blog posts on YouTube.com had been published related to the video. Danowitz says it was intentional to put the video on YouTube.com.
“We use all types of media, but clearly the Internet is probably the best vehicle for reaching the maximum amount of people in the shortest amount of time with the minimal amount of resources,” Danowitz says. “A picture speaks a thousand words and based on the response so far it is clear people agree something needs to change.”
Rosenwinkel says the film was shot last summer during July and August. He says it was a difficult piece to shoot because the mining industry was reluctant to talk to him or to have their facilities filmed.
National Geographic may consider producing a follow-up piece, Rosenwinkel says, noting the public may be interested in learning more if the Senate passes a reform bill.
Rosenwinkel says “Wild Chronicles” videos often appeal to a wide demographic and audience members appreciate the show’s ability to present issues not watered down. “The show has a big viewership because we can say what we want without a stamp of disapproval,” Rosenwinkel adds.
The video can be viewed on YouTube.com at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYWVqDLJCoo.