An interesting piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer covers a new report on mining on U.S. public lands, issued by the Washington, DC based Environmental Working Group. (Full disclosure: I used to work for EWG.)

It’s sad, but no surprise: even after decades of attempts to reform mineral royalties laws, we’re still giving away public lands, and the minerals they contain, for a tiny fraction of their market value. Detailed reports on Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are available.

The most interesting part of the report for me is finding out how few jobs actually remain in metals mining. Even in Idaho, which has the highest concentration of mining jobs among the Northwest states, less than one in a thousand jobs are in the metals mining industry. The state added about 130,000 new jobs, total, between 1993 and 2002, but lost 200 metals mining jobs over the same period; by 2002, fewer than 550 metals miners remained in the state.

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  • This is a trend seen in most resource-extracting industries: as technology has improved, the number of jobs needed to produce a given quantity of goods has declined. Mining is a particularly clear example of the trend. As recently as 1987, the U.S. mining industry employed 9.5 mining workers for every million pounds of metal mined. By 2002, that had fallen to 5.5 workers per million pounds of metal.

    Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Mine Health and Safety Administration employment data and US Geological Survey mine production data.