Miners sneak a rider onto an appropriation for war

  • Cartoon: The Midas Touch

    Steve Greenberg
  When the U.S. Department of the Interior derailed the Crown Jewel gold mine on March 25 with a close reading of the 1872 Mining Law, grassroots activists who'd battled the mine for seven years thought the news was too good to be true. They were right.

Just weeks after Interior stiff-armed the Crown Jewel in north-central Washington state, the industry slipped a rider through Congress overturning the government's ruling.

The mining industry accomplished this with the help of Washington Sen. Slade Gorton, R, who attached the rider to an emergency spending bill that included funding for the war in Kosovo and Honduran hurricane victims.

The rider exempted the gold mine in Washington state from Interior's new regulations (HCN, 5/24/99). President Bill Clinton signed the bill on May 21, acknowledging that it was laden with troublesome riders. Surprisingly, Sen. Gorton voted against the bill containing his rider because, he said, he opposes the war in Kosovo. In political circles, Gorton's move is considered a crafty but not unusual legislative ploy.

"That's the insider's game of legislating," says David Olson, a University of Washington political scientist.

The mining industry says the rider simply reversed an unfair ruling issued by Interior in March. The Department of the Interior had enforced a provision in the archaic 1872 Mining Law that limits the amount of mining waste that can be dumped on public lands.

"Sen. Gorton and the Congress was absolutely justified in using the emergency appropriations rider to right that wrong," says Laura Skaer of the Northwest Mining Association.

For now, the mine's opponents are back to their original tactics. Together, the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Okanogan Highlands Alliance have three lawsuits pending in state and federal courts; they promise to tie up the mine in litigation for several years, if necessary.

"These are just prize fights," says Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project, which represents the grassroots Okanogan alliance. "We won a round, they won a round, but we're still standing." - Dustin Solberg
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