Saturday, July 28, 2007

Remember: All you have to do is elect Democrats!

And everything will be fine. Yup.

McClatchy news said on Thursday that the House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources is considering revamping the 1872 law that governs mining on public lands.
The law elevates mining's significance above other use of public land, which makes it difficult for federal land management agencies to turn down applications for new mining projects. ...

Some of the proposed changes would make it easier for the government to deny mining applications. Other suggested changes include forcing mining companies to put up substantially more money to ensure that if there is environmental fallout from their work, there's a cleanup fund to tap into.

The proposed changes also include allowing the federal government to recoup royalties off mining operations, much like oil and gas exploration.
Sounds fair. Sounds reasonable. Sounds - and damn well is - long overdue.

It hasn't got a chance.
[O]pponents of changing the mining law have a firm ally in Senate Majority Harry Reid, a gold miner's son. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said Thursday that he had spoken with Reid and that the Nevada Democrat was unlikely to even consider giving the proposed changes a hearing in the Senate.
Just how bought and paid for by mining interests are the opponents? Consider that
western political leaders told [House Natural Resources Committee chair Rep. Nick] Rahall and the other committee members that the economies in many western states are heavily dependent on mining, and that too many restrictions would make it too expensive for investors to consider those states.
And just where else are these mining investors going to go? First, the law covers all public lands in the whole country and according to Environmental Frontlines, "a high percentage of hardrock mining occurs on federal public lands." ("Hardrock" refers to metallic ores, including such as copper, iron, lead, zinc, gold, or silver.)

Second, this isn't like some manufacturer threatening to close a plant and build a new one somewhere else; mining operations have to take place where the stuff is in the ground. Mining companies really can't just pick up and move in search of a more favorable regulatory environment. The argument is basically bogus.

Just how bad is the law they are defending? In an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a couple of years ago, Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group was quoted as saying
"[u]nder our current regulatory system, companies can get billions of dollars of gold and other precious metals for just a fraction of [what they pay for the rights]. ... It shortchanges the public."

She cited as an example the 1994 purchase of Nevada gold-mining land worth an estimated $10 billion by Barrick Gold Corp., a Canadian company, for less than $10,000.

In another instance, an U.S. company, Phelps Dodge, last month paid $875 for 155 acres in Crested Butte, Colo., where real estate sells for up to $1 million an acre.
Earlier this month, the environmental group Earthworks noted that under the law,
individuals or corporations can stake an unlimited number of mining claims on federal public lands, and hold those claims indefinitely for as little as sixty-two cents an acre per year. As of the first quarter of 2007, mining claims cover more than 7.2 million acres of federal land. Fueled by sky-high prices for gold and the increased demands from China, claim-staking on public lands is on the rise. Over 89,000 mining claims were staked in 2006 alone, a six-fold increase over the number of claims filed in 2001. Because the 1872 Mining Law was written for a different era, claims can be staked in areas that are unsuitable for mining and in areas that provide other essential land values. [Emphasis in original.]
In short, the law is an open invitation for corporations to rip off the public with impunity, obtaining rights to public lands at prices that were considered reasonable 135 years ago.

And that's just fine with Harry Reid.

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