Any change could provide cover for those opposing the measure to back down, with a backroom deal for an only slightly less noxious revision emerging. The measure currently is in the House version of the Budget Reconciliation, but not the Senate. As it is due to go into conference soon, this is an appropriate time to weigh in with your Senator (especially Republicians) about it. Westerners for Responsible Mining is one of many organizations that can walk you through.
House Resources Mining Subcommittee Chairman Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) said today he had removed a major component of his mining land sales provision in the House budget reconciliation package, in an effort to appease some of its critics.
Under the new proposal, companies would still be allowed to buy public lands for mining but would no longer have the option of also purchasing adjacent land for "economic development."
Gibbons said he struck the direct sales section but is still fighting to keep the language on mining patents, as House and Senate negotiators attempt to hammer out a compromise on the budget package.
"It was clear that was at the heart of the conflict," Gibbons said. "I hope to put to rest some of the hysteria that has arisen."
From Gibbons website, in a news release dated today:
Gibbons Maintains Commitment to Mining Law Reform
"While we may need to compromise on the final language of the provisions, I remain committed to achieving meaningful mining law reform. For instance, given the limited time frame and the overall budget reconciliation process, we have decided to table the direct sale provisions and address this particular issue in the broader context of mining law modernization next year.
Sounds like a concession. Good. But as Yogi Berra famously said, It's not over 'til it's over. It has yet to go to conference.
Environmental Working Group has an analysis out already, but focusing on issues specific to southern Nevada.
Gibbons' Fixes Fall Short
According to EWG's investigation of Bureau of Land Management records, developers already hold a substantial number of mining claims within the SNPLMA boundary. For example, Del Webb, a real estate development company that is a subsidiary of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Pulte Homes, holds 22 claims inside the boundary. The claims, held with several partners including a company called Tyrell Builders, cover an estimated 2,200 acres.
Under Gibbons' legislation, Del Webb could purchase these acres for fair market value or $1,000 per acre, whichever is greater. As several Las Vegas localities noted in a recent letter to Gibbons, these prices are likely to be far less than what Del Webb would pay at auctions held under SNPLMA at which land typically sells for "two to three times 'fair market value'." In addition, these funds would flow to the federal government rather than to the state of Nevada (Gibbons 2005 Sec. (d)).
Gibbons, who is running for Governor of Nevada, appears to be shooting himself in the foot! And most of the bad stuff remains intact. EWG's conclusions:
Gibbons' bill continues to short circuit SNPLMA and federal mining law by allowing claim holders to hold their claims immune from challenge by the U.S. government simply by paying a modest fee (Gibbons 2005 Sec. 6101 (b)). This provision reverses more than 130 years of federal law which provides that claim holders have rights to public land against challenge by the U.S. government only if the claim holders can prove the existence of a valuable mineral deposit.
Under Gibbons' legislation, the federal government could not challenge the validity of the 123 claims inside the SNPLMA boundary if the claimholders paid their fee, even if no valuable minerals existed on the land. This change -- in addition to the land sale provisions -- could deprive Nevada localities of the opportunity to sell the land for orderly development and could deprive the state of more than $2.4 billion including the $122 million for schools. Alternatively, the claimholders could force the federal government to buy them out at great expense in order for the land to be sold under SNPLMA.
Claimholders throughout the West would have the same unprecedented rights to hold their claims free from challenge and to exclude hunters, anglers, and hikers merely by paying a modest fee. Many of these lands are located in national parks, wilderness areas and forests that provide clean water and recreational opportunities for millions of people.
I'll close with comments from the Las Vegas Gleaner, a Democratic blog, currently front paged there:
Now for Gleaner speculation. There's a chance, one supposes, that by caving on the direct purchase portion of his so-called mining provisions, Gibbons -- and the House -- can claim to have attempted to compromise even before going into conference, in the hope that by voluntarily gutting the wildly extreme, the merely extreme will be allowed to become law. There is, further, one supposes, the possibility that critics of the legislation, including Republican senators and, of course, Harry Reid, could claim that because Gibbons dropped his most extreme provision, cooler heads have prevailed, so victory all 'round -- which is to say the compromise, ugh, succeeds. This, in turn, would allow Gibbons to race back to Nevada, where he thinks he should be governor, and jump and down and wave his arms and say that he accomplished something for once in his obscure congressional career.
The Environmental Working Group's analysis looks like it was ready for release even before Gibbons' announcement Monday that he was pulling back from the land-purchase portion of his cheesy scheme. But it leaves no doubt that even with Gibbons' changes, the provisions would still be awful for Nevada -- and the rest of the West, too, for that matter. Hopefully, Reid and some of the more, shall we say, vocal critics of Gibbons' plan will stick to their guns. Gibbons, after all, is dead right for a change: The budget reconciliation process is the wrong "context" to be considering mining law reform.
Ultimately, this kind of crap will keep coming down the pike until we manage to wrest control of the Congress from the GOP in '06. (White House in '08, too, but that's too long to wait.)
Reminder: This is the time to keep the pressure on Senators, as it's about to go into conference. Westerners for Responsible Mining can take you through the process.