The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Hard times call for a modest proposal

Mining in Alaska has always promised to be our workhorse industry, due to abundance of deposits on state, federal land North of 60 Mining News – February 3, 2023

If you have paid any attention to the news lately, you are aware that the National Debt exceeds $30 trillion dollars and our Gross Domestic Product is a little over $26 trillion, so we are literally borrowing ourselves rich. The National Debt Ceiling is $31.4 trillion, so Congress is confronted with the grim choice of raising the debt limit or not being able to pay our national bills.

Naturally, there is a lot of controversy over how Congress should proceed. Remarkably, some people will actually suggest that the U.S. simply spends too much money.

Setting aside the possibility of reducing the budget for a moment, a range of alternatives has been suggested which require consideration.

They include minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. After all, we do have the strongest currency in the world, so who would notice if we just minted a few extra shekels? It will hardly create a ripple in the greater scheme of things.

Or the President could just ignore the Debt Ceiling. After all, if the National Budget approved by Congress exceeds the Debt Ceiling also approved by Congress, shouldn't the President get to choose which alternative to implement?

Another possibility would be to just buy up old government bonds that are being sold on the market for less than face value, reducing the National Debt to a certain extent.

Better yet, the government could issue bonds that do not have a maturity date. If people buy these bonds, they get interest forever and, zowie, there is no associated debt. I kinda wish I could run my finances that way.

Some people point to the 14th Amendment, Section 4, which requires that public debts must be paid. Whether that means that the United States must balance the budget seems to be an open question, although it makes sense to me.

Along the same line, the Treasury Department might ask the Federal Reserve Bank to prepay some obligations with the idea that the country would catch up later when Congress wrestles the current problem to the ground. Sort of a wink, wink, nudge, nudge loan to Auntie Jellen.

The option I personally favor, however, is the proposal for selling off federal land.

There are about two billion acres of land in the United States of which a mere 366 million are in Alaska. Of that, the federal government still owns about 222 million acres. Putting aside the Park Service holdings (52.5 million acres) and the Fish and Wildlife Service Refuges (76.6 million acres), there is still lots of federal land in Alaska that could be put on the block.

The BLM, for instance, is responsible for about 74 million acres and the Forest Service oversees well over 19 million acres, all of which could be fair game.

Far be it from me to suggest, however, that there should be an open season on federal land just because it is there. Actually, some of the land is more valuable for specific purposes than the rest.

What I would propose, though, is an infinitely small tweak in the federal law. It appears that since 1994, Congress has annually imposed a moratorium on spending appropriated funds for the acceptance or processing of mineral patent applications.

Currently there are nearly 7,000 unpatentable federal mining claims in Alaska.

If the moratorium were lifted and the patent application process were to be revitalized, there would be an enhanced interest in mining opportunities throughout the State; and, in due course, that could mean more tax-paying mines.

Currently, there are five times as many state mining claims in Alaska as there are federal mining claims. Consider the possibilities.

Although state land selections frequently focus on contained mineral resources, the extent of state land ownership is only slightly greater than the BLM and Forest Service holdings.

And the mineralization does not respect political boundaries.

Notably, Senator Murkowski is the Ranking Member on the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and, under the new House organization, former Interior Secretary, now Representative, Ryan Zinke is a member of the House Interior Appropriations Committee.

It seems to me that now would be a good time for Congress to take another look at the desirability of the patent moratorium and to whether lifting it could contribute to resolving a small part of our national debt.

Just a modest proposal.


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