Still no deal for New World Mine

  With great ceremony last August, President Bill Clinton announced he had saved Yellowstone by blocking a proposed gold mine that bordered the park (HCN, 9/2/96). Once the applause died down, critics who worried that the the deal was a ploy for re-election warned that the deal was not done: Clinton still had to secure $65 million in federal property or cash to pay off the Crown Butte mining company (HCN, 9/30/96).

A few days before the March 15 deadline, the Clinton administration was scrambling to make a deal.

A few weeks earlier, Montana Gov. Marc Racicot and private industry thought they had come up with the perfect plan. Proposed by brothers-in-law at a Billings coal firm and Plum Creek Timber Co., the "Montana Initiative" would have allowed the companies to buy public land in Montana from the federal government to raise money to pay off Crown Butte.

Plum Creek pulled out when green groups protested the deal.

Douglas Honnold, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund attorney who helped mastermind the original Crown Butte agreement, says the administration should stop looking for timber- and coal-rich Montana lands and consider trading developed urban areas and closed military bases instead. Honnold also suggests drawing from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which raises $900 million annually from oil and gas drilling in America's coastal waters. The fund was created to purchase natural resources. Since the 1980s, however,Congress has used it to reduce the federal deficit.

Although Crown Butte can reject any offer, Honnold says he's confident that the mining company will work with the administration to make a deal. The agreement was forged partly under pressure from a lawsuit he brought on behalf of environmental groups, a lawsuit that could cost the mining company up to $150 million.

"If this deal doesn't go down," Honnold says, "we'll go to trial."

*Dan Oko

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