December 12, 2005

Lawmaker drops part of mining law reform plan

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key House Republican said on
Monday he was willing to drop part of a plan to update a
century-old mining law attached to a budget-cutting bill, but
critics said the move did not go far enough to protect federal
land within or near national parks.

The mining issue is one of several politically sensitive
items that will be in play when Senate and House negotiators
try to finalize a bill to cut federal government spending.

The House recently approved lifting a ban on the sale of
millions of acres of federal land for mining in the West in its
version of a $50 billion budget-cutting bill. The Senate did
not include mining in its $35 billion budget-trimming bill.

Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons said he would drop language that
would have allowed companies to purchase or "patent" federal
land that has been played out. The provision would have allowed
companies to buy land for economic development where minerals
have been depleted and are no longer economic to mine.

"This section has been completely misinterpreted and
intentionally misrepresented," Gibbons told reporters. He said
he would revive the issue in a separate bill in the future.

Environmental groups and some lawmakers said Gibbons' offer
was not enough.

They want the entire mining measure dropped from the final
version of the budget-cutting bill, saying the House plan would
open some 350 million acres of land -- including a small parcel
inside California's Yosemite national park -- for sale to real
estate developers and speculators at cheap prices.

The House plan would lift a 10-year ban on the U.S.
government's sale of public lands for mining, and raise the
price from just $5 an acre to at least $1,000 an acre.

"U.S. and foreign corporations would be able to buy and
develop important natural areas now used for recreation,
wildlife, fisheries or regional drinking water supplies --
including areas within our national parks (and) national
forests," said Tony Iallonardo, a spokesman for National
Environmental Trust.

Such purchases could be made "without public input and
without regard for the public value of such land," he added.

Republican Rep. Dennis Rehberg of Montana said he also
remained concerned about the mining measure's impact on
recreation on federal land.

"If language cannot be fashioned to protect hunting and
fishing, he will vote against the budget bill," said a
spokesman for Rehberg.

Negotiators from the House and Senate are expected to meet
soon to blend their budget-cutting bills into one piece of
legislation. The mining measure was added to the House bill
because it will generate some new revenue for the U.S.
government by selling federal land.