While other environmental debates rage in Congress,
negotiations over reform of the 1872 Mining Law are quietly
proceeding behind closed doors in the Senate. Sen. Ben Nighthorse
Campbell, R-Colo., is at the center of the give-and-take. In March,
Campbell and Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., introduced a bill, S.
639, that they said is almost identical to the compromise proposal
that failed in the waning days of the last Congress. "Last year's
compromise is an appropriate starting point," said Campbell. "This
bill represents the consensus of many on both sides of the issue."
The bill establishes a 3 percent gross royalty on gold and a 2
percent gross royalty on other minerals. It allows miners to patent
mineral deposits but not the land, which the federal government
would retain. And it basically codifies existing environmental
regulations for mining. But like last year's compromise, Campbell's
bill has yet to attract enough support to emerge from the Senate
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. A markup of the bill has
been postponed twice as staffers work to fashion a bill that will
not only pass an evenly divided committee but also avoid a
Democratic filibuster on the Senate floor.