Member Alert )
December 2005



The most important calls you can make for your public lands this year

On November 19, the House passed a budget reconciliation bill that could privatize vast tracts of public land by allowing mining conglomerates and others to buy public land at bargain-basement prices. The sell-off provision came courtesy of Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA).

While purporting to be about mining and “sustainable” communities, the bill is really a privatization free-for- all that could deliver our public lands into the hands of developers. The mining company sell-off poses a threat that stretches across literally millions of acres of public land.

We’re not kidding. We’re not even exaggerating.

Now the House and Senate will confer to reconcile their respective budget bills, and we must ensure that the public land giveaway does not go into the final bill!

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), ranking member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, has vowed to fight the public land sell-off.

Other senators need to hear from you now!

Read on, or SEE BELOW for info on whom to contact and how.

Background: The 1872 Mining Law authorized the practice of “patenting” public lands for hard-rock mineral development, including gold, silver, and copper. In addition to claiming the minerals underground, the law allowed miners to purchase the title, or patent, to the surface interests in public lands for no more than $5 an acre if they could prove they could viably mine minerals underneath the lands.

Hard-rock mining companies don’t pay royalties on the value of the minerals they remove from our land, making the mining conglomerates beneficiaries of an outrageous and extremely damaging subsidy. In 1994, Congress placed a moratorium on patenting; hard-rock mining companies could still mine on public lands free of royalties, but could not obtain patent. Congress has renewed the patent moratorium every year since then.

Pombo’s measure would abolish the moratorium, putting millions of acres across the West up for sale to mining and other interests for $1000/acre or appraised value, whichever is greater—but the appraisals would not include underlying mineral value. Billions in mineral value would simply be given away!

The measure would affect Wilderness Study Areas, roadless areas, and lands next to national parks and monuments. Some of these lands have been previously withdrawn from mining activity to protect them, but Pombo’s measure would override that protection wherever withdrawn lands were adjacent to mining claims.

The sell-off would not require that the land actually be used for mining, so untold acres of our commons would be open to development of all types. The bill encourages the sell-off of previously mined land (as well as contiguous land that hasn’t been mined) for “sustainable economic development”—in Republican-speak, hotels, ski resorts, golf courses, and second homes.

(1) Call or email both your senators. For contact info, go to www.senate.gov.

(2) Call these critical Republican members of the Senate who have the power to yank this provision. Tell them that the mining company/public lands giveaway must be kept out of the final budget.

(You must call—most accept emails only from constituents).

Judd Gregg (R- NH), Budget Chair, 202- 224-3324

Pete Domenici (R-NM) Energy & Nat. Resources Chair, 202-224-6621

Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Finance Chair, 202-224-3744

(3) Thank Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) for his strong opposition to the sell-off: 202-224- 5521.


Santa Rita Mtns CA

In 1998, Arizona activists and the Western Lands Project successfully opposed a land trade that would have exchanged this land in the Santa Ritas to ASARCO. The new mining sell-off would allow ASARCO to buy these peaks at a discount, mine them, and sell what's left for development. Photo: Western Lands Project

For even more gory details, see an excellent analysis by the Environmental Working Group at http://www.ewg.org/reports/dirtcheap/index.php

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