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Mr. Chairman, I would say to my colleagues that we have tried, we have
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But today we are seeking to address a single issue in this whole debate. That single issue is this: When one stakes a mining claim, the law says that one can obtain up to five acres of additional public lands, non-mineralized in character, for the purpose of dumping the mining waste. These lands are known as millsites. Indeed, the claimholder can also obtain a title to those lands for that $2.50 an acre price I spoke of earlier.
Not content with this arrangement, some in the hardrock mining industry are seeking to gobble up unlimited quantities of public lands in association with their mining claims for waste dumps. The amendment we are offering today simply says no, they cannot do this. The existing law's ratio of mining claims to millsites will stand.
The public domain is a public trust. There is an effort under foot to subvert that public trust. It is a land grab at the American taxpayers' expense, a pure land grab. Can they mine, can they mine ore under the existing arrangement? Of course they can. Will the industry continue to profit under the Mining Law of 1872? Certainly it will. But we are here to say that enough is enough.
Mr. Chairman, I urge the adoption of the amendment.
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.
Mr. Chairman, as the gentleman from West Virginia knows, he and I have seen eye to eye on a number of the proposed mining law changes, and recognize that this is a matter that should be addressed by this body and the other body.
My concern with this amendment is that we are letting one person in effect make law for the United States. I have always been of the opinion that the Constitution says that legislation should be passed by both houses and signed by the President. I think that is the proper way to do it. I do not believe that the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior should be given the privilege of making law, taking our responsibility. That to me would be a derogation of power that I think would be totally wrong.
I would point out that the BLM manual, and the BLM has been under the control of the Democrat party and the presidency as part of the executive branch, says, ``A millsite cannot exceed 5 acres in size,'' which is what the attempt to do here is.
It also goes on to say, ``There is no limit to the number of millsites that can be held by a single claimant.'' Further the United States Forest Service Manual provides, ``The number of millsites that may be legally located is based specifically on the need for mining or milling purposes, irrespective of the types or numbers of mining claims involved.''
These are policies. I think the public is entitled to conform with what is the policy of this Administration as set forth in the BLM manual and the United States Forest Service Manual.
I agree with the gentleman from West Virginia. There ought to be changes. We have joined in legislation in the past to do so. That is the proper way to do it, because these are policies that require a legislative solution and not a decision by the Solicitor that this should be the policy of the United States. That the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior should be making laws and not the Members of this Chamber and the other Chamber is not acceptable.
For these reasons, I oppose this amendment. I would hope that the gentleman from West Virginia would offer this as a legislative bill to be heard in the authorizing committees and achieve the changes. In some of those I would join him. But I just think it is the wrong policy to let one person in our government decide what the policies should be that are the responsibility of this legislative body.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. REGULA. I yield to the gentleman from West Virginia.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the distinguished subcommittee chairman for yielding to me. The points he makes about the legislation, I would note, there was no point of order made against the amendment.
In addition, while the Bureau of Land Management manual may have erroneously stated as the gentleman has accurately described it stated, the law and the regulations I believe do have this 5-acre limit.
The statute, section 42, title 30, U.S. Code, imposes a limitation that no location for land for use as millsites shall exceed 5 acres in connection with each mining claim. So the manual from which the gentleman quotes accurately is in error, and the law and the statutes are correct.
Mr. REGULA. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I think the issue is whether there is a multiplicity of 5-acre sites by one claimant. The gentleman's proposal is a limitation so it is not subject to a point of order, but I believe the gentleman's proposal would limit a claimant to one 5-acre site, and the BLM standard does not do that. That is where there is a difference in what the BLM requires versus what the gentleman would require in his amendment of limitation.
Mrs. CUBIN. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to make the record straight on part of the testimony that has been given on hardrock mining.
First of all, I have to say that I have very, very little hardrock mining in my State, but I do know the history of what has gone on with the hardrock mining law.
In my opinion, the Interior Department Solicitor and Vice President GORE are attempting to rewrite our mining laws without the benefit of congressional sanction nor public input. Why? Perhaps it is because the 104th Congress passed significant amendments to the mining law.
Let me say what some of those amendments were, the very things that my colleague, the gentleman from West Virginia, complained about.
The law that we passed in the 104th Congress imposed a 5 percent royalty on all the minerals that were extracted. It required fair market value payment for lands, including the millsites. Also it established an abandoned hardrock mine land fund which would reclaim, which would clean up and restore any of the mining lands that had been deserted, that anyone who currently is mining could be forced to clean up and to reclaim.
However, the President vetoed it. Why did he do that? He did that because the Congress refused to give the Secretary of Interior unbridled authority to just say no to mining. This Solicitor has been wrong before when it comes to hardrock mining. As a matter of fact, there is a Supreme Court decision seven to one against the Solicitor on the way he has interpreted some of the regulations for hardrock mining.
So Mr. Chairman, let me get to the specific issue. On the issue of millsites, he recently concluded that our mining laws contain a limit on the ownership of such millsites, despite the fact that no previous Solicitor ever nor any court ever has interpreted the law to limit the number of millsites, the number of 5-acre millsites that are available.
The law is very, very clear. A mining claimant may only utilize non-mineral-bearing lands as millsites, and only as much as is necessary in the conduct of one's mining and milling operation. If more than 5 acres is necessary, then they have to get another site.
That is exactly what the Solicitor and the Vice President are trying to stop, which will basically truly impede hardrock mining, and in some cases, stop it. In no way is the miner limited to only as many millsites as he holds mining claims. No one ever has made that ruling except the current Solicitor. I challenge anyone to show me in the United States Code, title 30, section 42, where a mining claimant is so limited. It is not there, and the Solicitor knows it.
He argues in his opinion that a 1960 amendment makes clear that Congress intended to limit ownership of millsites to one for one, but this law references placer mining, not lode claims.
So in truth, Congress has had the opportunity not only in the 104th Congress, where they took the opportunity
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Mr. Chairman, the Rahall-Shays-Inslee amendment is an attempt to cede legislative branch authority to an unelected lawyer who is working for the Interior Department, and he is and has continued to work feverishly to impose his unorthodox views about mining before he and the Vice President leave office.
But the property clause of the Constitution is very, very clear. I quote: ``The power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territories and public property lies with the Congress.''
So I implore the Members of the House to not abandon our power, not abandon our responsibility. It is up to us. Yes, I believe that we need mining law reform. I believe that we need royalty. I believe that we need an abandoned mines fund. I believe that we need to get fair market value. Had the President not vetoed that, we would have that in place today.
Mr. NETHERCUTT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I am rising today to oppose this amendment offered by the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. RAHALL), the gentleman from Washington (Mr. INSLEE), and the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. SHAYS) because it seeks to ratify a decision by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior which restricts the acreage available for mining under the existing mining law and the existing interpretation of the metals mining law.
This, pure and simple, is politics at its worst; and it is legislation being fomented by one person in the Department of Interior who seeks to manipulate the process of approval of mining claims and the conduct of mining in this country.
Goodness knows that mining is under assault in any event. But the worst kind of assault is by one person in the Solicitor's Office who claims intellectual superiority over the Congress or anybody else in the country by his sole interpretation of the mining law relative to mining claims and millsites.
Make no mistake about mining law in America today. It requires extensive environmental protection, analysis, review and approval both by Federal statute and by State statute. So what our friend down at the Department of Interior seems to want to do today is force this issue on this House and force the issue of his opinion on the mining interests and the mining jobs that are created all over this country but that are fast dwindling.
In February of this year, the Solicitor issued an opinion, an opinion that would virtually overturn the 1872 mining law by allowing a miner one 5-acre millsite claim per mining claim plan to be developed. This is an unprecedented decision by the Solicitor and in over 100 years of analysis and interpretation of mining law the law has never been interpreted this way. In fact, our friend, the Solicitor, is expressing an opinion, and again it is an opinion, contrary to the long-standing Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service policy, which is directly contrary in the regulations of the Bureau of Land Management to the Solicitor's interpretation.
So it is a nice try, but no sale because it is a misinterpretation and it is an aberration and it should be rejected by the House, by every one of us in the West who respect the mining interests that have been a tradition in the West for years. We ought to be offended by this. We are offended by it, and we ought to resist it. And the rest of the House should not be, shall I say, persuaded by the opinion, the opinion of one person downtown who wants to be dramatic in terms of affecting mining policy in this country.
It is not an environmental issue, Mr. Chairman. Companies that are petitioning to operate mines and millsites must still go through, as I said a moment ago, strict environmental law. Stricter than they have ever been. Stricter today than ever in history. And goodness knows also that there needed to be some changes made in mining practices. But the sins of the past should not be presented here today in the present, because mining companies and the mining industry is an honorable business, and the mining companies and the small and large employees and employers who are affected by mining law comply to the strictest environmental requirements in history today. So what happened then is not now.
But this Solicitor is living in the past. He has a bone to pick. He has a point of view. He has a particular persuasion relative to the goodness or badness of mining, and he is trying to persuade the rest of the country by one opinion, by an ill-advised opinion I must say, and persuade the House that he is right. Well, he is wrong, and the Solicitor is wrong, and the Department of the Interior is wrong, and it is outrageous that the Department would allow this to stand.
So, Mr. Chairman, I would say to my colleagues all of us in the West and all of us across the country ought to be very concerned about one opinion trying to affect the industry of this country that has been an honest and honorable one and is currently a respectable environmental practice that is undertaken by companies across this country who are trying to mine the minerals and the resources of this country in a responsible way. We should reject this amendment.
Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment. This amendment is not a giant leap forward for mankind, it is simply a step to make sure that we do not take a giant leap backward for the American taxpayers.
Taxpayers actually have one and only one protection in the 1872 mining law, and that protection says if someone is going to open a mine and pay nothing for it on public land, they cannot dump their mine waste on more than 5 acres of the public's land. This is common sense, existing, on the books, black and white law in the country.
Now, to make sure, I have this blowup; and if my colleagues can see the blowup, what it says is simple. I think we as Members of Congress ought to take a look at it. It says miners can use offsite land for millsites, but no location made on and after May 10, 1872, of such nonadjacent land shall exceed 5 acres. Five acres.
So why are we here? We are here because in the other Chamber's bill they order agencies to ignore the clear protection of this law. They argue that miners can have 5 acres here, 5 acres there, 5 acres over there, until maybe they get a thousand acres. That is no limitation. That is a nothing law. That is not a law. That would be a bad joke on the American taxpayers.
Mr. Chairman, their argument reminds me of my son. One of my sons likes ice cream, so we imposed a two big-scoop limit on him for dessert. And after he finished he came back and said, ``I am done with those two scoops. Now I want my second dessert for the second two scoops.'' He thinks just like the mining industry, and he was wrong and that argument did not wash. He gets two scoops of ice cream and they get 5 acres to pile up their tailings on American taxpayers' land without paying a dime for it.
Why is this important? It is important because there is no justice to the America taxpayers if we take their lands, give it to privately held corporations and give them nothing but 20, 50, 100, 1,000 acres of crumbled stone and cyanide. That is why the Taxpayers for Common Sense support this amendment.
In 1872, Congress said 5 acres was the limit. In 1960, Congress passed a bill that would have given unlimited acreage but recognized the need for the 5-acre limitation and struck that language. And now in 1999 we ought to put our foot down and say the same thing.
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.
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