Today, eight Western Democratic senators added their voices to the growing chorus of opposition to controversial legislation that will allow mining companies and other entrepreneurs to buy millions of acres of public lands and valuable minerals for next to nothing. The ill-conceived provisions are buried in the budget reconciliation bill that the House passed (by two votes) last month and which is awaiting conference. Here’s the letter:
December 6, 2005
Dear Senators Frist, Reid, Gregg, and Conrad:
We are writing to voice our strong opposition to the provisions contained in Title VI, Subtitle A, of the House Budget Reconciliation bill, entitled “Miscellaneous Amendments Relating to Mining.” The provisions would make extreme and unworkable changes to the Mining Law of 1872, which governs the disposition of hardrock minerals on public lands. Moreover, the legislation could trigger a fire sale of millions of acres
The provisions in question would lift the moratorium on patenting of mining claims, which has been adopted on a bi-partisan basis by the Congress annually since 1994, thus allowing public lands and minerals to pass into private ownership for $1,000 per acre or the fair market value of the surface estate (not including the minerals), whichever is greater. This plainly would not provide a fair return to the public for these public lands and the gold, silver, platinum, copper and other hardrock minerals that they contain, which are valued in the billions of dollars.
Equally alarming, the House legislation would require the Federal government to sell public lands to would-be buyers that file mining claims or “blocks of claims,” again for the greater of $1,000 per acre or the fair market value of the surface estate. In a departure from over 130 years of precedent, the mining claimant would not even need to prove the existence of mineral deposits in the lands. The likely result of this provision is the sale of large areas of our most precious public lands for purposes unrelated to mining. We also have serious concerns about the potential effects of this proposal on the multiple uses of our public lands, including grazing, hunting, angling, and other outdoor recreation, and the economic benefits derived from these uses.
As Senators from Western public lands states, we request that you strongly oppose these provisions and exclude them from any conference report on Budget Reconciliation. Legislation that would make sweeping changes in the laws governing hardrock mining and that would allow millions of acres of public lands to be conveyed to private ownership should not be enacted without the opportunity for hearings, debate and deliberation. This proposal bears no resemblance to sound fiscal policy and even if it did, we do not believe that the American people would want to balance the Budget by selling off our treasured public lands and resources to private interests for next to nothing. Thank you for considering our views.
Bingaman (NM) … Baucus (MT) … Boxer (CA) … Cantwell (WA) … Feinstein (CA) … Murray (WA) … Salazar (CO) …Wyden (OR)