Mining Law reform juggernaut; not so wild about Larry or Harry
Not everything is a lovefest between Senate and House Democratic leadership, as Thursday’s first Mining Law reform legislation hearing revealed.
Posted: Friday , 27 Jul 2007
RENO, NV -
Thursday's House Energy and Minerals Subcommittee Hearing on H.R. 2262, aimed at U.S. Mining Law reform, appeared to be divided into several camps:
•ü Environmentalists, who don't want mining on public lands without increased taxpayer compensation, insist upon even stronger environmental and wildlife protections, and wish to strengthen the ability of regulators to close off mining and exploration completely in some sensitive areas.
•ü Miners ,who need security of land tenure, limits on citizen lawsuits, a level and stable financial and regulatory playing field, and continued access for exploration and exploitation of minerals on U.S. public lands, to secure project financing and develop mines.
•ü And, the rest of us--including elected and appointed officials, as well as the U.S. Government-who need the gold, silver, PGM, and base and industrial metals to meet the material and environmental requirements of the digital age, along with a good supply of domestic energy resources, including uranium.
During the hearing, Steve Ellis, Vice President of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that "despite the private sector extracting public assets from the ground, taxpayers receive no compensation whatsoever. ...By comparison, the oil and gas industry generally pays 12.5% in royalties on what they extract from onshore federal lands."
"All too often, after all the minerals have been removed, mining operators split town and leave communities with a mess and taxpayers holding the bag to pay for clean up," he added. "Public lands are taxpayer assets, and should be managed in a way that preserves their value, ensure a fair return from private interests using them for profit, and avoid future liability."
Henri Bisson, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Land Management, could not have disagreed more. "We often take for granted the availability of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc and other minerals and their contribution to the quality of life we enjoy in this country. ...Computers, telephones, clothing, toothpaste, cosmetics, medicines, cars, sports and reaction equipment, appliances that make homes safe, convenient and comfortable-none of these would exist without the types of minerals discovered and developed under the 1872 Mining Law."
"It is the mineral production used in areas such as agricultural production, communication, transportation, technology, and national defense that make a truly profound contribution to our way of life. The phenomenal advance of culture, science and technology remains dependent on mineral resources," he reminded the subcommittee. For Bisson and the Bush Administration, House Resource Committee Chairman Nick Rahall's Mining Law reform bill, H.R. 2262 "does not present workable solutions" to resolving questions stemming from the role of mineral patenting and requiring some form of production payment from public lands.
Former Interior Solicitor John D. Leshy has made Mining Law reform a nearly lifelong crusade. In his testimony, Leshy asserted that "it has long been recognized that the Mining Law is thoroughly out of step with evolving public resource management. In his opinion, "the Mining Law allows privatization of valuable public resources, at bargain-basement rates." He also suggested that the "Mining Law fails to produce any direct financial return to the public."
National Mining Association Vice Chairman William Champion, President and CEO of Kennecott Utah, stressed that the NMA is seeking "a predictable legal and regulatory framework that will provide the long-term stability we need to protect existing investments and also to attract new investment capital to domestic mining."
Leshy also contends that the "Mining Law results in inadequate protection of the environment and other uses on public lands."
And, he argued, today's westerners "are increasingly unsympathetic to the idea that the hardrock mining industry deserves these special exemptions from the laws and policies that apply to everyone else."
However, another former Interior official, attorney J.P. Tangen proclaimed that mining "is a proud industry that has produced many of the commodities that America has demand and required and has excellent prospects for doing so in the future."
Tangen and the members of the Alaska Miners Association, who he represented before the House Subcommittee, feel mining basic rights of security of tenure and self-initiation "will disappear if H.R. 2262 becomes law." The right of self-initiation allows any qualified person to locate a federal mining claim on public lands.
In short, Tangen claimed that, "this bill, if enacted, would prevent all further mining and exploration on federal public lands in the United States."
TV personality and sportsman Tony Dean of South Dakota told the panel that "one of the most important reasons to reform the Mining Law of 1872 is to ‘Keep Public Lands in Public hands.' Public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service harbor some of the most important fish and wildlife habitat and provide some of the finest hunting and angling opportunities in the country."
"Sportsmen simply want biologists and resource professionals of the BLM and the Forest Service to have the same authority to examine the potential impacts of mining in areas that are vital to fish, water and wildlife resources, and to be able to deny a permit if those values would be compromised by mining activities."
Jennifer L. Martin of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission favors H.R. 2262 because it will take "positive steps towards ensuring that mining activities will be conducted in a manner that allows for the continuation of wildlife species" through requiring reclamation of exploration activities, road systems and other exploration impacts. Martin also favors provision that identifies National Monuments and Parks, Wilderness and Roadless Areas and other special and sensitive places as ineligible for mining activities.
Geologist Ted Wilton, who particularly loves living and working in Spring Creek, Nevada because of its hunting and fishing, believes that the consequences of HR 2262 will be the closure of "the many small businesses that have grown up in our towns where mining is the cornerstone of the local economies-businesses that embody the dreams and investments of many Americans who are not directly employed by mining companies."
"While I do not dispute the notion that some refinement and reform of the General Mining Law might be needed," Wilton asserts that HR 2262 "punishes not only the mining companies, it punishes the investors in these companies and the communities that depend on mining for their very existence.
DON'T MESS WITH LARRY OR HARRY
Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, declared that "I don't think there is any state that is affected more by this legislation than the state of Nevada," adding that "thousands of jobs will be impacted in my district."
Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho-who is helping shepherd the Bush Administration's hard-fought campaign for a national energy bill--reminded the subcommittee that Idaho is home to "one of the largest mining districts in the nation." Craig also believes "that mining is not the canary of a coal mine. It is the canary of an economy."
As Craig pointed out, mining on public lands is not all about gold, despite what environmental special interest groups would have American consumers believe. Copper "is ever increasingly valuable to hybrids," he explained. "Silver today is an industrial metal that connects our fingerprints to the digital world."
Meanwhile, Craig did not hesitate to put a few of the Senate's political cards on the table as far as H.E. 2262 is concerned. Basically, Craig warned that "a bill that does have a message more than a practicality doesn't do well in the Senate."
The name of powerful Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada cropped up more than once in the debate as both sides evoked his name in the name of political intimidation. Thus far, the only field hearing scheduled by the House Subcommittee was specifically requested by Reid to be held in his home state of Nevada on August 21 in Elko. Ironically, no one is certain if the ultra-busy Reid can actually attend the hearing he basically insisted be held.
Nevertheless, mining industry activists are hoping miners and elected officials from several western states will muster their ranks and fill the Elko hearing room beyond capacity.
Although time did not permit uranium explorationists and miners to testify during Thursday's hearing, the Uranium Producers of American filed a statement reminding the House Subcommittee that nuclear energy plays a vital role in meeting U.S. energy needs. "In order to break our nation's addiction on foreign oil and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power generation must plan an increasingly larger role in generating base-load electricity in our country. Since worldwide demand for uranium is rapidly increasing and has far outstripped supply for many years, it is imperative that the rebounding domestic uranium mining industry discover and produce new sources of uranium from within the United States. "
"Much of the resources have been discovered in the past and that will be found and mined in the future on are U.S. public lands," the producers noted.