Babbitt attacks mining's gold heists

  • Barrick's Goldstrike mine where "the public got the shaft"

 

On the day he was not nominated to the Supreme Court, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt stepped up his campaign for reform of public-land laws in the West.

Brandishing an oversized symbolic check, Babbitt bashed the "outdated" 1872 Mining Law that forced him to hand over more than $10 billion in gold to a Canada-based company for less than $10,000.

"This is the biggest rip-off since the Yankees stole Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for pocket change," said Babbitt after signing a mineral patent transferring 1,800 acres of public land near Elko, Nev., to Barrick Goldstrike Mines. A federal judge ordered Babbitt to turn over the patent by June 20 of this year unless there was cause for denial. Babbitt has acknowledged that the company's application was valid, but the Goldstrike, the richest gold mine on public land in the United States, has proved a powerful symbol in the debate over mining reform.

"It's the biggest gold heist since the days of Butch Cassidy," Babbitt said. "But these folks stole it fair and square. The West has long since been settled but the giveaway continues unabated."

Now that Barrick owns the land, it will not have to pay a royalty to the federal government. A tax on gold extracted from public land is a central element of mining law reform.

Budget chief Leon Panetta joined in attacking the mining law that forced the government to "sign over to a foreign-owned company the rights to $10 billion worth of taxpayer-owned gold for less money than they charge NBA players for fighting during a game. This has turned from a needed incentive into a multibillion-dollar rip-off. And it has to stop."

The rhetorical flourishes continued as environmentalists and mining industry lobbyists swung into action. Phil Hocker, director of the pro-reform Mineral Policy Center, blamed the Senate for failing to pass legislation to replace the 1872 Mining Law. "In effect," he said, "the members of the Senate have been standing on the back porch of the capitol, ringing the dinner bell and shouting "Come and get it before it's all gone" to the mining companies."

Sierra Club lobbyist Kathryn Hohman added, "Barrick Resources picked the taxpayer's pocket, while pock-marking the public's land. The mining company got the gold and the public got the shaft."

Pat Garver, an attorney and lobbyist for Barrick, responded, "If you believe Babbitt, I ought to just be able to take that check to the bank. In fact, tonight we can do the same thing we did this morning: bulldoze around and claw gold from the ground. This didn't change anything for Barrick. We're glad he finally complied with the law. But this was mostly a press event. It was the opening salvo in Interior's efforts to get mining law reform."

The mining industry's chief lobbyist, Jack Gerard of the Mineral Resources Alliance, a group of more than 2,000 mining companies and industry organizations, said Babbitt "fails to recognize the sizable investment made by mining companies before extracting a single ounce of gold or silver or the millions of tax dollars and thousands of jobs generated by the industry." Gerard added, "The mining industry has been waiting at the bargaining table and is prepared to support reasonable reform this year."

The political battle over mining reform is heating up as Congress prepares behind-the-scenes for a contentious conference committee to resolve two very different mining reform bills that passed the House and Senate last year.

Both Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., have named delegates to the conference committee. It will meet this summer to hammer out a reform bill with enough "strong" environmental provisions to satisfy the House while not provoking a filibuster from Western senators who say reform must be "fair" to the mining industry.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATURAL HISTORY INSTITUTE
    The Executive Director is the chief executive officer of the Natural History Institute (NHI). The Executive Director has broad authority to lead and manage the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • SENIOR DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Senior Development Associate to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a...
  • TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL CREWLEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California ,is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National Scenic...
  • ENDANGERED SPECIES POLICY ADVOCATE
    Are you a Guardian for wildlife, great and small, across the West? WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) seeks a full-time Endangered Species Policy Advocate (Advocate) for the...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER - GRANTS & CONTRACTS
    ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is an ambitious new organization working to ensure that our state's parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs to lighthouses...
  • WILDLANDS ATTORNEY- SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE
    Immediate Opening-Wildlands Attorney The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has an immediate opening for a full-time Wildlands Attorney. Interested applicants should email a cover letter,...
  • STREAM RESTORATION PROJECT MANAGER
    The Clark Fork Coalition seeks a Stream Restoration Project Manager to develop and manage a suite of restoration projects near Missoula, MT. The Stream Restoration...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.