Republicans Drop Mining Provision in Bill

December 15, 2005

Republicans Drop Mining Provision in Bill

U.S. House of Representatives Republicans dropped a provision in budget legislation on Dec. 13 that would have allowed the sale of public lands for mining, according to press reports. A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators from the West opposed the mining provision, as well as a broad coalition of hunters, anglers, other recreational users of public lands, conservationists and business leaders such as jewelry retailers.

Jewelers of America criticized the provision in November, which would have overturned an 11-yr.-old congressional ban that prevents mineral companies from "patenting," or buying, public land at cheap prices if the land contains mineral deposits. The bill would have changed a complex 1872 mining law that determines which public lands are available for mineral rights and private purchase, and would have lifted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications.

"Our 11,000 member stores, spread throughout the United States, firmly believe that mining reforms should include strict environmental regulations that adequately protect our nation's watersheds, forests and wildlife," said Matthew Runci, JA president and CEO, in a Nov. 14 letter to Dennis Hastert, the Republican House speaker.

Michael Kowalski, CEO of Tiffany & Co., who also sits on the Jewelers of America's board, said: "I think there is a recognition among jewelry retailers, and indeed among many mining companies and the entire jewelry supply chain, that we have a responsibility to make sure the entire supply chain conducts itself in a socially and environmentally responsible manner." He said the company believed mining on public lands "is a privilege rather a right and it simply should be carefully evaluated against other possible land uses, and we feel that way because we believe that represents the sentiments of our customer base." Tiffany first publicly called for mining law reform in 2004.

"We applaud Congressman [Jim] Gibbons' decision to drop the mining subtitle from the budget reconciliation bill," said Stephen D'Esposito, president of Earthworks, which had opposed the provision. "We welcome the call of Rep. Gibbons, and the call of Senators around the West from both parties, to consider meaningful mining reform in the coming year and we look forward to working with all parties to promote the multiple goals of protecting communities and our public lands, safeguarding our natural resource heritage, and ensuring economic development and responsible mining practices."

Gibbons, a Republican from Nevada and a mining lawyer before he came to Congress, said opposition claims were exaggerated and development would have helped boost the economy in mining towns. The mining provision was included in the House version of larger budget legislation designed to cut federal spending. House and Senate negotiators are attempting to finish work on that bill this week. Gibbons vowed to reintroduce what he called comprehensive mining reform legislation in the new year.

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