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 Don't buy the 'sell-off' hype -- Mining Laws

Barbara Cubin PERSPECTIVE -- Republican Congresswoman Barbara Cubin, R-Wyoming, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.

We've heard a great deal about the outsourcing of American industry in recent months. One aspect of this problem that doesn't get the attention it deserves is the outsourcing of hard rock mining to foreign countries.

For more than a decade, a moratorium has been in place on patenting any new hard rock mining claims in the United States under the 1872 Mining Law. That means investments in hard rock mining have been delayed and our nation is forced to look overseas for some desperately needed minerals.

To bring some of these mining jobs back home it's time to update that 1872 law to lift the moratorium and make sure the taxpayers are treated fairly. A provision in a recently passed deficit reduction bill I voted for will do just that.

The amount of misinformation and outright lies put out on this provision by the environmental obstructionists is their typical modus operandi. Some of the news reports read almost word for word from environmentalist Web sites.

Anyone who knows me and knows my record knows I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize multiple use. I represent all the people and interests and industries equally. I'm in favor of multiple use and always have been. Anyone who has read the actual text of the bill knows that it will protect that principle.

One of the biggest lies put out about this provision is that National Parks would be sold off. The language specifically prohibits the sale of any land in a national park, wilderness, conservation area, trails system or scenic river. That's good news for sportsmen.

Updating this law isn't something we approached lightly. If the hard rock mining moratorium were lifted, without this update, lands holding these claims could be sold for as little as $2.50 an acre. We made sure with this bill that the taxpayers will receive at least $1,000 per acre or the fair market value, whichever is highest.

Opponents of the provision say that real estate speculators or anyone who is willing to pay that amount could buy the land and develop it in any way they wanted. But unless real estate speculators or deep-pocketed environmentalists want to enter the mining industry and begin staking mining claims and developing hard rock minerals, then they would not qualify under the provisions of this bill to purchase lands.

This provision applies only to hard rock mining sites -- not to the production sites of resources like coal, oil or natural gas. In fact, since Congress acted in 1954, any mining claim that gets patented or sold doesn't include the coal, oil or natural gas rights. They stay with the federal government and Wyoming continues to get its share of the royalties.

Patenting a claim is much easier said than done. We all know how rare these claims are and how expensive it is just to prove one of these deposits exists. A BLM analysis in 1992 showed the average cost to patent a claim was $38,000. Updated for inflation that cost could be well more than $60,000.

Beyond that, we're talking about a very small area in Wyoming that could be affected -- only about 15,000 BLM acres statewide. That's just two-one hundredths of one percent of the entire state of Wyoming. Nationwide only about 360,000 acres would be eligible -- and only about a third of that number would probably be sold.

Just a quick read of the bill text will prove that anyone who claims that hundreds of thousands of acres in Wyoming will be sold either hasn't read the bill or is outright lying to you. And any media outlet that publishes such a false claim without checking its facts independently should be ashamed of itself.

A question that all mining communities must eventually answer is, "What happens when the mine closes?" As much as we'd like to believe otherwise, Wyoming mining communities are not exempt.

Under this provision, local communities will be allowed to work with the mining companies who buy the claims to bring sustainable economic development to the area. Instead of forcing communities' hands as to how the land can be used we'll give them a seat at the table and a say in the process.

Even better, 30 percent of the receipts from any patents or land sales would be available to reclaim mining land and to support colleges, universities and vocational schools that offer training in petroleum, mining or mineral engineering.

Enacting this provision into law will cut the deficit by more than $158 million and provide real and sustainable economic development opportunities in mining communities nationwide.

Too many mining communities face uncertain futures filled with questions. This provision will help them come up with the answers.

Republican Congresswoman Barbara Cubin, R-Wyoming, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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