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In this case, the Solicitor General has rendered a opinion that agrees with our amendment, happens to agree with our position. But I really do not give a fig what the Solicitor General thinks about this. What matters is what the law of the country says and what Congress thinks and what Congress says and what the American public deserves. The worst thing Congress could do is take one provision of the 1872 mining law protecting the public and then gut it, which will happen if we do not pass this amendment.
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Some say everything is hunky-dory in our mining industry, all the problems taken care of, miners can put their 5 acres or hundred acres anywhere they want. But that did not help the gold mine in Montana that closed in 1997 and now has ended up with cyanide in residents' drinking water. This law is a clear antiquity. It is broken. We need mining reform, not mining deform. We need to go forward on mining law, not backward.
Pass this law and follow the law of 1872 to the extent that it gives Americans at least one protection.
Mr. HILL of Montana. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the Rahall amendment; and the reason for that is it overturns what is, in essence, a hundred years of practices in public land management. The issue here is whether or not a mine can use more than one 5-acre parcel for a millsite. And, as a matter of fact, both the BLM and Forest Service manuals say yes.
The BLM manual says, quote, ``A millsite cannot exceed 5 acres in size. There is no limit to the number of millsites that can be held by a single claimant.''
The BLM Handbook for Mineral Examiners says, quote, ``Each millsite is limited to a maximum of 5 acres in size and must be located on non-mineral land. Millsites may be located by legal subdivision or by metes and bounds. Any number of millsites may be located, but each must be used in connection with the mining or milling operation.''
And the U.S. Forest Service Manual says, quote, ``The number of millsites that may legally be located is based specifically on the need for mining or milling purposes, irrespective of the types or numbers of mining claims involved.''
Mr. Chairman, this has been the practice for well over a hundred years. Basically, this issue is that the Clinton administration has decided it wants to wage war on mining on the public lands. The average hard rock mine employs about 300 people, more or less. In Seattle, Washington, or Bridgeport, Connecticut, or here in Washington, D.C., 300 jobs is not a big deal. More than that number of people work in one floor of any of our office buildings. But in rural Montana it is a big deal. We need those jobs. And often they are the only jobs in those communities.
The President just toured rural America and talked about the high poverty rate and the high unemployment rate that is out there. We need these jobs. Our communities need these jobs. Our families need these jobs. Our schools need these jobs. I think the 1872 mining law needs to be updated. It has been four or five dozen times, and I would support an effort to try to do that. But that reform is the responsibility of Congress. It is not the responsibility of one lawyer in the administration, and it should not be done by executive fiat.
The Clinton-Gore new interpretation of this provision is done without any court oversight. It has been done without any public input. It has been done without any hearings. There has been no consultation with the Congress. This is the wrong way to reform the 1872 mining law. It is a disaster for rural Montana, and I would urge the defeat of this amendment.
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment. Those who oppose this amendment would suggest that somehow one day the Solicitor in the Department of the Interior woke up and redefined the law. The fact is that the law is clear on its face and no location of a millsite shall exceed 5 acres. That is what it said in 1872, and that is what it says today.
The history is, in 1872, a month later the General Land Office issued the regulations expressly limiting millsite locations to 5 acres.
In 1891, the Secretary of the Interior rules that it limits it to 5 acres.
In 1903, the Acting Secretary of Interior rules in the Alaska Copper Company, the area of such additional tracts is by the terms of the statute restricted to 5 acres.
In 1914, ``Lindley on Mines'' says it is restricted to 5 acres.
And it goes on through this in 1960, when Congress looks at it and goes back and says, ``A millsite may, if necessary for the Claimant's mining or milling purposes, consist of more than one tract of land, provided it does not exceed 5 acres in the aggregate.''
In 1968, the American Mining Congress says that it is 5 acres. They do not like it, but it is 5 acres.
This is not about that. What this is about is the mining industry that has done everything they can to keep us from having a reform of the mining law. And the gentlewoman from Wyoming (Mrs. Cubin) recited the pale effort of the other side to pass mining law reform with royalties that turned out to be phantom royalties that meant nothing. It was 5 percent of nothing is nothing when they got done, and the environmental protections and all the rest. And the President is absolutely right to protect the environment and to protect the taxpayers of this country by not going along with that legislation.
But this is the law as it is today. And what the mining law companies have decided is they want to go out onto public land and dump their waste onto public land, to build their cyanide heap leaching pads out on public land, and when they are done extracting the ore, they will leave, and the public would be the steward of these waste sites.
Well, they have already done that. We have seen this movie. This mining industry has left us with 12,000 miles of streams that suffer from toxic metals and wastes that dribble into those steams; 180,000 acres of lakes where toxic metals are there loaded with lead, cadmium and arsenic.
There are more than 500,000 abandoned mines. Yes, this is a boom and bust industry. Right now it is not looking so good. Gold is down below $300. When they leave these facilities, yes, they leave us with the waste; they leave us with the toxics.
Right now we expect that the government is going to have to pay between some $32 to $72 billion to try and reclaim these mines, to try to get rid of the toxics, to try to get the materials out of our streams, out of our lakes so that people in the West can enjoy the land that has been spoiled by these mining operations.
To have them now come along and dump their waste on public lands in violation of law, the Solicitor was absolutely correct in his opinion. He was restating the law as it is today.
The mining companies do not want to come into the authorizing committee and have a mining law reform and change this to make it 10 acres or 20 acres or whatever they think it should be, under whatever conditions. No. They want to come into an appropriations bill like they did when we were worried about funding the war in Kosovo. They thought that would be a good vehicle to allow them to dump their waste onto public lands, and they got away with it.
It turned out to be such a good deal in the Kosovo appropriations that here they are now back in the appropriations process in the Senate.
These people do their best work in the middle of the night. They do their best work in the middle of the night. They do not want a debate on policy, about where the waste should be, and the size of these tracks for waste. They do not want a debate on royalties. They do not want a debate on rents. Why? Because since 1872, they have been fleecing the taxpayer. They have taken billions off of the lands that are owned by the people of the United States and paid nothing.
Now, if they take it off of the land of a rancher next door, they pay him 7, 8 percent gross royalties. If they take it off State lands, they pay them a percent of royalties. It is just Uncle Sam that does not get paid.
No wonder they are in here with a single shot amendment in the Senate bill to try to overturn the Solicitor's opinion, because they do not want this debate. They do not want the debate.
So what are we left to? We are left to, on the appropriations bill, trying to stop them from continuing to fleece the taxpayer and take over these public lands for the purposes of dumping their waste.
For those of my colleagues who were not familiar with this process, these leach pads are hundreds of feet high. They are huge. They are constantly
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Technology has changed the nature of gold mining. Why do we not have a debate on modernizing the gold mining industry? Why do we not have a debate about this industry that now can go into such low grade ore to make this kind of profit? Can they not pay the people of the United States something for the use of the land? No. Their alternative is to come here in the middle of the night and try to strike another rider on the appropriations bill so that they will not have to have that debate.
We ought to support the Rahall-Shays-Inslee amendment.
Mr. GIBBONS. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the Rahall amendment. I want to bring it back into a little bit of focus, if I can. It has been a long time since I was in the third grade and when I learned basic volumetric analysis about what we can do and what we cannot do.
One thing my parents always told me is, one cannot put 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag. Here we have got a 20-acre load claim, 20-acre site, and now we are restricting it to 5 acres, attempting to take most of the material off of a 20-acre area and put it into a 5-acre parcel. That is an impossibility. It is physically impossible. It has to be understood.
But other than that, let me say that I rise to oppose this amendment for several reasons, one of which, it is going to allow a Solicitor, it is going to put law behind an opinion that was not a final judicial opinion. There has been no debate on this. It did not come through the committees. There was no debate on the merits of this issue. There was no hearing on this. It suddenly appeared from the dark of night, as the gentleman from California (Mr. GEORGE MILLER) has said, and now it is before us. There has been no public input on this measure, all for the purpose of destroying a mining industry.
I want to say that, in March of this year, the Solicitor at the Department of Interior reinterpreted a long-standing provision of the law, then relied on his new interpretation to stop a proposed gold mine in the State of Washington.
Well, this proposed gold mine has gone through a comprehensive environmental review by Federal and State regulators which was upheld by a Federal district court.
They had met every, and I repeat, every environmental standard required and secured over 50 permits to operate. The mine qualified for their permits after spending $80 million of their money and waiting 7 years to get into operation.
The local Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service officials informed this mine and their sponsors that they, in fact, had qualified for the permit, and they should come to their office to receive it. It was then noted that the Solicitor in Washington who intervened used his novel interpretation of the law to reject the permit.
The Rahall amendment is cleverly designed to codify this administrative reinterpretation. This interpretation has been implemented without any congressional oversight, as I have said, or rulemaking, which would be open for public review and input and comment on this proposal.
This was a calculated effort to give broad discretion to the Solicitor to stop mining projects that met all environmental standards; and yet we are opposed by environmental extremists and special interest groups.
This amendment should be defeated, and the Solicitor should be required to seek out a congressional change in the law or either a formal rulemaking, giving the impacted parties an opportunity to comment on the change.
If allowed to stand, this Interior Department ruling will render the mining law virtually meaningless and shut down all hard-rock mining operations and projects, representing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investments throughout the West.
This amendment will destroy the domestic mining industry, and with the price of gold at $257, not near $300, $257, which is a new 30-year low, the second largest industry in my State will cease to exist.
I think Congress must pay attention if it is intending to put industries, valid industries, legal industries out of business. If the Secretary or his Solicitor has problems with the United States mining law, then they should take these problems to Congress to be debated in the light of day before the American public.
Laws are not made by unelected bureaucrats. Bureaucrats administer those laws that we enact here in Congress. Congress has to approve whether or not they agree with the laws.
It is the duty of the government in a democracy to deal honestly with its citizens, not cheat them.
As the Wall Street Journal stated recently, and I quote: ``If the Solicitor's millsite opinion is allowed to stand, investment in the United States will be as risky as Third World Nations.''
The International Union of Operating Engineers oppose the Rahall amendment on the basis that, if it passed, it will force the continued loss of high-paying jobs in the U.S. that are directly or indirectly related to the industry. These are many blue collar jobs in every congressional district we have in the United States.
Furthermore, Mr. Chairman, the Constitution gives the people control over the laws that govern them by requiring that statutes be affirmed personally by legislators and the President elected by the people. Majorities in the House and the Senate must enact laws, and constituents can refuse to reelect legislators who have voted for a bad law. Many Americans no longer believe that they have government by and for the people.
Mr. Chairman, I oppose this amendment very strongly.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of this amendment. It is important that the House take a stand on this mining issue in this bill because the Interior bill in the other body already contains a rider on this matter.
Let me start with an assertion that probably would receive broad agreement across the ideological spectrum: the current state of American mining law is a travesty. Mining is governed by an outmoded law passed over a century ago, and Congress has not significantly modified it since 1960. One result is that taxpayers have been denied billions of dollars as mining rights are given away at rates that were probably even a cause for celebration back in 1872, when the law was originally written.
So we have an outmoded law that cheats taxpayers, and what do some want to do? They want to override the one provision of the 1872 law that actually provides the taxpayers some protection. That is the effect of the language that was in the supplemental appropriation and the language that has been proposed in the other body. That language would, in effect, repeal the clear language of the 1872 act that prevents mining companies from despoiling unlimited amounts of Federal land, land they get at a bargain rate, destroying that land with hazardous waste.
This amendment would put the House on record against efforts to give away more Federal land so that mining companies can use it as a waste site. It would block those efforts, not by doing anything radical, but simply by reaffirming long-standing Federal law. That is environmentally responsible and fiscally responsible.
If we are going to revisit the 1872 mining law, we need to do it comprehensively. What we should not do is attack the 1872 act piecemeal as part of the appropriations process in ways that remove the few provisions that protect taxpayers and the environment.
I urge support of this amendment which reaffirms current law and protects taxpayers.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. BOEHLERT. I yield to the gentleman from West Virginia.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding to me, and I appreciate very much his support. He has always been one that speaks with an even hand and wants to balance our environmental needs along with the needs to provide jobs in industry.
Several comments were made by the gentleman from Nevada (Mr. GIBBONS) in regard to trying to stuff a 20-pound
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I am not adverse to looking at changes. That is what I have been trying to do since I have been in this body for 20 some years now is make amendments and make reform of this mining law of 1872 so that we can have jobs in the industry and have protection of the environment at the same time.
So I say to the gentleman, I will be glad to look at the comprehensive reform of the mining law. We have tried that in this body. Unfortunately, it has not passed the other body. So I think, if we can have that type of reform, we can probably address some of these needs.
I would say also to industry, many of whom when we have tried to reform in the mining law have been moderate and responsible and wanting to sit down at the table and work with us, including the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. REGULA), the subcommittee chairman.
There is always, of course, as there is in any facet of society, that fringe out there that does not want to sit down at the table and wants to torpedo any effort at reform.
So we have tried to reform this law. We have even passed a bill out of this House of Representatives in a bipartisan passion only to see it move nowhere in the other body.
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