MAC: Mines and Communities

Legal Experts Ask Congress to Reject Sale of Parklands to Miners

Published by MAC on 2005-12-09

Legal Experts Ask Congress to Reject Sale of Parklands to Miners

Enviroinmental News Service (ENS)

9th December 2005

BOULDER, Colorado - Nineteen natural resource law professors are urging Congressional leaders to strip controversial mining provisions from a massive deficit reduction bill when House and Senate conference committees meet next week to reconcile competing versions of the bill.

The mining section of the budget bill, advanced by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo of California and Congressman Jim Gibbons of Nevada, both Republicans, allows mining companies to purchase mining claims - even if they are within a protected area such as national parks or wilderness areas.

In a letter sent to Congress on December 6, the law professors warned that the mining provisions could lead to widespread liquidation of public lands across the West, threatening America’s western heritage and the health of rural western communities.

“Simply put, these proposed changes in federal law are fundamental and far reaching, and if enacted, could have devastating effects on federal land management and policy,” stated the legal experts from 15 universities in their letter to Congress.

Referring to the bill’s mining section, they wrote, “It is so loosely worded and its standards are so relaxed that it could open a large proportion of the federal lands - potentially hundreds of millions of acres - to purchase.”

The law professors join six western governors and more than a dozen high-level former federal and state land managers, including three formers chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service and several Bureau of Land Management directors, who have recently announced their opposition to the Pombo-Gibbons provisions.

More than 100 sportsmen, taxpayer, retail business, conservation, and Native American groups oppose measure, which they call a "land grab."

The legal scholars’ letter was accompanied by a 15 page analysis of the proposed public lands sell-off, which contradicts many of the assertions by Pombo and Gibson about how much public land would be affected and what the potential impacts would be.

“In short, this program could promote a new rush to privatize the nation’s public lands, an undertaking not seen for a century or more,” concluded the law professors’ letter to Congress. “Such far-reaching changes to federal law and policy should not be enacted as part of a last-minute addendum to complex budgetary legislation.”

On November 18, the House passed the Budget bill containing Pombo's mining provision. The bill next moves to the House-Senate conference committee. The Senate version of the Budget bill does not include the mining subtitle, so the advocacy group Westerners for Responsible Mining and the law professors say keeping the mining language out of the conference report, which must be passed by both the House and Senate before being signed into law by the President, is crucial to preserving western public lands.

For text of the letter and the legal analysis, visit Westerners for Responsible Mining at:

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