Congressman Richard Pombo did indeed see that the budget reconciliation bill passed out of his House Resources Committee did not allow for mining within the borders of any national park.
That's the good news.
The bad news?
According to the Environmental Working Group, this measure could lead to mining practically on the borders of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, and a handful of other national parks.
How did this come about?
The House Resources Committee was charged with finding a way to generate $2.4 billion in savings over a five-year period that ends in 2010. And after a long day of work on October 26, the GOP-led committee felt that it had accomplished that task and issued a press release titled, "Deficit Reduction Through Domestic Energy Supply."
In touting the resulting bill's highlights, the release went on to say that the measure would:
* Raise $2.4 billion by allowing oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
* Generate more than $800 million over five years for the federal treasury by allowing states to allow off-shore energy production
* And raise another $155 million over five years by "updating antiquated mining laws"
"The bill develops America's energy sources, which will decrease our reliance on foreign oil and increase America's energy security," said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., in hailing the legislation. "In addition to the fiscal benefits, the provisions passed today will provide a number of economic benefits and generate growth. This is a true win-win for America, which is why I proudly supported the bill."
But What Will the Legislation Do to Public Lands?
But is this measure truly a win-win proposal? There are a few doubters. You can start with 14 Democratic members of the Resources Committee who voted against the bill.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia, the committee's ranking Democrat, said the measure would do little to solve the nation's budgetary problems while at the same time providing sweeping benefits for the mining industry.
"When it comes to rewarding the oil and gas industry, this committee's legislative agenda for the whole year reads like a series of bad horror movies. It is stunning to me that we are even entertaining handing out more goodies to an industry that is scoring record-breaking profits on the backs of hardworking American families who are struggling to fill their tanks and heat their homes," said Mr. Rahall.
After it reviewed the measure, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan environmental watchdog, had even more damning words for the committee's Republican leadership. As it stands, the legislation would "become one of the largest land giveaways in U.S. history," the group said, as nearly six million acres of public lands in the West would be opened to mining.
"Chairman Pombo wants to sell the American West to foreign mining corporations and anyone else who can pay a fraction of market value for the land," said Dusty Horwitt, an EWG analyst. "If Pombo's bill passes, America's treasured natural heritage will be for sale to anyone who wants to buy it."
And How Will That Affect National Parks?????
So how, you might be wondering, does this impact national parks? Significantly, by opening up the possibility that mining operations could be developed just outside national parks.
Back in 1996, the Clinton administration negotiated an end to a gold mine proposed to be built roughly four miles outside Yellowstone's northeastern entrance. Business groups and some GOP congressional representatives were not happy with that settlement. Cynics might view the legislation that passed out of Pombo's committee as revenge for that deal.
The analysis conducted by EWG shows that the legislation, if eventually passed into law, could lead to mining on:
* 10 claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park
* nine claims within five miles of Saguaro National Park
* 360 claims within five miles of Joshua Tree National Park
* one claim within five miles of Rocky Mountain National Park
* eight claims within five miles of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
* 20 claims within five miles of Yellowstone National Park
* 1,206 claims within five miles of Death Valley National Park
* 44 claims within five miles of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
* four claims within five miles of Wind Cave National Park
* 20 claims within five miles of Canyonlands National Park
* seven claims within five miles of Arches National Park
* five claims within five miles of Mount Rainier National Park, and,
* eight claims within five miles of Grand Teton National Park
That's quite a haul. To get a broader view of how mining already is impacting national parks, forests and wilderness areas, visit EWG's web site. The information is sobering.
There are other potential pitfalls in Mr. Pombo's legislation, such as a provision that would make it easier for the Interior Department to sell public lands to the mining industry without requiring companies to actually use the land for mining. With that in place, companies could find it easier to acquire property to build resorts just outside parks.
There also are provisions that could impact national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, and which could prevent environmental challenges for up to ten years. And the bill doesn't seem to explain how the federal treasury will benefit so handsomely from drilling in ANWR, since current law provides for 90 percent of mineral royalties to flow to the Alaskan, not federal, government.
To see how the committee's Republicans and Democrats spin the bill, visit the committee's web site. To find the Democratic response to the measure, click on the "Minority" tab in the upper righthand corner.
Be Careful What You Wish For
While we all no doubt wish Congress would get the country's financial matters in order, this legislation doesn't seem like the best way to go about it. While Republicans on the Resources Committee proclaim the measure would both cut the deficit and help cure our seemingly insatiable thirst for energy, I doubt it would succeed at either.
Giving economic aid to an industry that is enjoying heady days with record profits, and running roughshod over the environment for precious little energy reserves, seems woefully shortsighted. It seems there should be more investment into alternative energy forms.
Don't get me wrong. We need mining in this country. And it can be done in a sustainable fashion without running roughshod over the landscape. But we also need more research and development into alternative energy, energy that will power us into the future without degrading our environment.
The $2.4 billion that Pombo's committee is searching for can easily be found in other areas, areas that won't jeopardize the environment. As I've mentioned quite a few times, a great place to start would be to reopen the highways bill that passed this summer with $24 BILLION worth of pork projects.