Groups lobby for defeat of mining law changes
DENVER – With a battle brewing in Congress over a bill that could open millions of acres of public land in the West to mining, the measure’s opponents in Colorado have launched a frontal attack.More than 40 hunting and fishing groups are lobbying senators to fight the House-backed mining provisions when a conference committee works out the differences between the two chambers.The Colorado Mountain Club and four other outdoors groups have asked leaders of the Senate Budget Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to strip the provisions from the budget bill. They fear the proposed changes to an 1872 mining law will lead to sales of large tracts of federal land used by the public that are home to wildlife and important watersheds.”The Rocky Mountains are our lifeblood, the reason we live here and the reason people come and visit here. Now, people will come and see a mountainside dotted with ‘No Trespassing’ signs,” said Vera Smith, conservation director for The Colorado Mountain Club.Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., has said he will oppose the mining proposals. His fellow GOP Sens. Craig Thomas of Wyoming and Conrad Burns of Montana came out against those proposals last week.A spokesman for the House Resources Committee, which was behind the mining provisions, said the sponsors are working on changes to protect access to public land by hunters and anglers. Matt Streit said Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., head of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, has made it clear that he’s willing to modify the language.”He wants to make sure that everybody’s concerns are addressed,” Streit said.Members of the conference committee that will resolve differences between the Senate and House budget bills might be appointed later this week, Streit said.Still, Gibbons and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., Resources Committee chairman, are defending the basic aim of the mining provisions. They have said the changes would raise $158 million over five years by dramatically increasing the prices for buying public land with gold and other hard-rock minerals to $1,000 per acre or fair market value, whichever is higher.The cost of “patenting,” or buying, mining claims now ranges from $2.50 to $5 an acre.Environmentalists and others long have pushed for overhauling the law that dates to the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Congress approved a moratorium in 1994 on new sales of mining claims.The House bill would lift the moratorium and worse, critics warn. They say it will open tens of millions of acres of federal land not just to mining, but all kinds of development.
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