11/19/2005

House's Massive Public Lands Giveaway'"

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Following is a statement of Velma Smith, mining campaign director of the National Environmental Trust, regarding the "House's Massive Public Lands Giveaway":

"There must be better ways to generate revenue than selling off our national heritage. This is an unprecedented give-away of millions of acres of public lands to special interests at bargain-basement prices.

"Removing arctic drilling earlier this month didn't turn this bill green -- it was already the color of money. It is a massive public lands giveaway to the oil, drilling and real estate industries.

"These are sweeping public policy changes jammed into a bill that is supposed to be about giving the nation a budget. Lawmakers should strip these provisions. Liquidating your property to buy lavish sweetheart gifts is never smart, and in this case, nothing short of shameless."

More Information:

Conservation groups say the House Resources Committee's budgetary language related to hardrock mining is a full scale rewrite of federal mining law and worse, a massive public lands giveaway to special interests.

The provisions are tucked into the massive House budget reconciliation that passed overnight, and moves on to a conference committee with Senate negotiators. Conservationists say if House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo is appointed to that committee by House Republican leadership, the provision has a reasonably high likelihood of becoming law.

The provisions end a decade-long Congressional ban on "patenting" or sale of public lands claimed for mining and creates a new policy of offering vast areas of Western public lands for sale for non-mining uses like real estate development and oil drilling. Under the bill, U.S. and foreign corporations will be able to buy and develop important natural areas now used for recreation, wildlife, fisheries or regional drinking water supplies -- including areas within our National Parks, National Forests, and BLM lands.

The proposal updates prices for the land surface from those of 1872, when President grant signed the original mining law, but it disregards the value of the minerals associated with those lands and prohibits the government from charging royalties for the taxpayers who own these lands, as it has traditionally done. The bill also allows the resale of these lands to oil, real estate and other interests.

While the provision's primary backer, Rep. Richard Pombo, says it will raise some $150 million over 5 years, it in fact sells public assets for far less than their value, and it raises less than half the revenue that could be raised by imposing a royalty fee on hardrock minerals taken from federal lands. While hardrock mining companies, the only extractive industries still governed by the antiquated law, do not now pay royalties or lease fees to the federal government; businesses extracting oil and gas, coal and other commodities from public lands do make payments to the federal treasury. If these businesses take advantage of the new Pombo sale language, they will avoid such payments by purchasing land outright.

U.S. Newswire : Releases : "National Environmental Trust Statement on the 'House's Massive Public Lands Giveaway'"

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