Recently, I had a debate with someone over whether the benefits of small scale gold mining was a matter of national security. It is, and it is undeniable. The vast majority of the gold mined in the world comes from small scale mining and stories like this where the drug cartels are literally making billions from gold explains just why it is important.
For the U.S. to be reliant on other nations for the stuff sitting right under our feet is ridiculous. Modern small scale mining is environmentally sound and in some cases like suction dredging, it is actually beneficial.