Mining reform might sneak back

  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.

*Jon Christensen