Braving temperatures in the 90s, about a score of miners rallied at the Federal Building Monday afternoon to protest possible changes to the 1872 Mining Law that are backed by environmentalists.
Protesters carried placards with slogans such as, "One More Freedom Taken Away . . . Vote NO!" The rally was aimed at Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, a member of the House Interior Committee, which was scheduled to consider the measure this week.Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, also is on the committee but wasn't targeted by the demonstrators, who apparently thought they could rely on his vote against changes to the law, which allows mining companies to take over federal land at $2.50 and $5 an acre.
"We're getting Wayne Owens to vote no on this," said Mike Fercik, a resident of Helper, Carbon County, who organized the rally. He said Owens' office informed him earlier that day that Owens would vote against allowing the revision to go to the committee at that time.
Because of that, he said, only a few members of the group People for the West! showed up. If Owens had expressed support for the revisions, he thought, more would have come to protest.
"The bill is going to kill the mining industry," Fercik said. "We are moderates. We are not radicals."
Bob Steele, Nephi, who is interested in mining at the south end of Mount Nebo, said the protesters are "not just a bunch of . . . greedy people." The revisions would affect everyone, he said.
According to John Anderson, a Salt Lake resident who is a miner and whose family has owned mines in Utah and Nevada for five generations, called the proposal a move by the government to begin controlling everything.
"It's scary to see the path the government is taking. It's a spooky thing. This is supposed to be America, not Russia," he said.
The proposed changes would require payment of such a high royalty it would put small miners out of business, he said. "We couldn't afford to do it. We'd have to drop claims."
He said congressmen favoring the new bill are "totally out of touch with reality. They sit in air-conditioned offices all their life."