[JURIST] By a two-vote margin, the US House of Representatives Friday passed a spending bill that would alter the General Mining Law of 1872 [text; Seattle PI report] by allowing individuals or companies to file and expand mining claims on federal public land, including areas stripped of minerals with no potential for profit. The spending bill will primarily benefit real estate developers by allowing them to use mining claims to assemble large land parcels for housing projects or commercial developments such as ski resorts. John D. Leshy, former Interior Department senior lawyer under President Clinton, says the new mining claims will allow real-estate transfer for economic development because mining claims can be located where there are virtually no minerals. Representative Jim Gibbons ([official website], a Nevada Republican who supports the legislation, argues that the bill will be an economic boon for rural communities dependant upon mining. The existing 133-year-old mining law allows for the extraction of hard-rock metals like gold and silver by simply claiming the minerals under the land. Congress barred claims from passing to full legal ownership in 1994, but the new spending bill would end that moratorium. Environmental groups such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) [press release] used a database of mining claims to determine that private owners could gain title to 5.7 million [EWG database] acres of federal forests, rocky promontories and grasslands. Land experts say, however, that there is no way to predict the volume of transfers that may occur. The spending bill has sparked concern in western tourist cities such as Aspen because they are surrounded by mining claims. The New York Times has more.