Mining reform: dead or alive?
As Congress prepares to adjourn for the year, chances
that it will pass legislation reforming the 1872 Mining Law grow
slimmer by the day. Sen. Harry Reid, D, who emerged as a key
negotiator for the Western Democrats, says the Senate would have
approved a draft put forth by a House-Senate conference committee
in early August, but subsequent changes, including an increase in
the royalty rate, made it unpalatable. Hard-rock mining companies
now pay the federal government no royalty for the minerals they
extract from public lands. "It's dead," says Reid.
Environmentalists say the negotiations aren't over and claim Reid
is doing the bidding of the mining industry, which has changed its
position from wanting a moderate reform bill to wanting to kill any
bill. "Reid took the last offer back to the big gold companies in
Nevada, and he got hammered," says Jim Lyon, director of the
Washington, D.C.-based Mineral Policy Center. "He caved in to
them." Some observors say the "94 elections may be the biggest
obstacle to passing mining reform: Western Democrats, including
Sen. Richard Bryan and Gov. Bob Miller, both democrats from Nevada,
don't want to give Republicans more reason to crow "War on the
West" between now and November. Meanwhile, the conference committee
agreed to a one-year moratorium on patenting new mining claims. The
Mineral Policy Center says the measure is a "fig leaf" because it
grandfathers in 399 pending sale applications worth $21 billion.