This massive sell-off was inserted into the House version of the budget reconciliation bill by Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA) -- the same industry lapdog who recently rammed through the House a bill to gut the Endangered Species Act. The House budget bill HR 4241 passed the House on November 18 by two votes, and now heads to conference with the Senate version of the budget, which does NOT include the sell-off provision. (The Senate bill does, however, contain a provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.) The House and Senate versions will now be reconciled in a closed conference committee perhaps as soon as this week.
The House bill draws on the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which allowed private mining companies to stake claims on public land and eventually own it for as little as a few dollars per acre. Fortunately, in 1994 Congress put a moratorium on cheap land sales under the law. Pombo's bill would end the sales moratorium, change the cost to $1,000 per acre, and allow corporations to purchase ANY public lands not withdrawn for another purpose -- whether the lands in question contain minerals or not, and even if the buyer has no intention to mine the land. The bill contains an exception to not sell off national parks and monuments, but it also contains a loophole to allow the sale of any lands with "valid existing rights" (that is, any mining claim).
Pombo claims he is trying to raise revenue with this proposal. But the same initiative specifically prohibits charging mining companies royalties on the billions of dollars in profit they make from minerals -- gold, copper, etc. -- that they pull from public lands every year.
The mining language also includes the mandated sale of 520 acres next to Western Watershed's Project's 432 acre Greenfire Preserve in central Idaho. The land currently includes a 60 acre decorative stone quarry administered by the BLM. WWP had sued the BLM over its illegal expansion, and WWP won that lawsuit last May. While the Court declined to stop or slow work at the quarry in any way, the mandated sale of an area five times larger than the quarry currently occupies is a direct slap at Western Watersheds Project's efforts to ensure the BLM and the quarry's California corporate owner comply with the law. If the sale is approved by Congress no mitigation for the impacts to the land will occur and there will be no federal requirement for reclamation of the quarry site in any way.
It is obvious this measure is meant not to improve the budget but to give away billions of dollars in public land to corporations. The governors of six western states, 3 western Republican senators (Craig from Idaho, Thomas from Wyoming and Allard from Colorado) law professors, conservationists and many members of Congress have publicly opposed Pombo's plan.
With your help, we can stop this short-sighted giveaway of America's public lands. While the House and Senate budget bills (HR4241 and S1932) are being reconciled in conference committee, your members of Congress need to hear your opposition to Pombo's plan as well.
Please write and call your members of Congress this week; the budget bill could pass out of conference as early as next week. You can also call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When you are connected to your Congressional office, please ask for the staff that work on environmental issues. Ask them to strike Pombo's public lands sell-off language from the budget reconciliation bill.
Readers who are constituents of the following Republican Senators or who have friends in their districts should contact them as soon as possible to oppose the mining language in the Budget Bill and the sale of public lands in Idaho and Nevada that are mandated by the mining language: Charles Grassley (R-Iowa); Larry Craig (R-Idaho); Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); Gordon Smith (R-Oregon); Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico); John McCain (R-Arizona); Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania).
For more information, contact WWP executive director Jon Marvel: firstname.lastname@example.org, 208-788-2290 or review the excellent information on this land grab at the web site of the Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/