The change, supporters told the Christian Science Monitor, would bring millions to local communities for schools and infrastructure. Opponents say it would set off a land grab of federally owned areas.
A law passed in 1872 allowed for the staking of land -- usually by individual prospectors -- for $2.50 an acre. But as technology changed, small stakes became much larger enterprises.
A measure proposed by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., would increase that to a fee of at least $1,000 per acre to privatize the land, the Monitor said. Supporters say such a move could be worth $158 million to the U.S. government over five years.
Opponents to privatization told the newspaper they would rather see industries pay a royalty on the land, similar to the 8 percent royalties paid by coal miners and oil producers. This method, the Monitor said, could generate government income of $350 million over five years.
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