Pombo's Mining Provision Unspun
Over the past week, the national media finally seemed to discover mining provision, written by Nevada Representative Jim Gibbons, that Richard Pombo slipped into the budget reconciliation bill. The Los Angeles Times wrote a wonderful piece by Bettina Boxall, which provided an incredible breath of sources who confirmed what we already know: that the Richard Pombo mining provision is a horrible idea. It’s a giveaway to mining companies and to real estate developers like Pombo. But the Times piece really takes the cake in the straightforward and powerful manner in which it demolishes Pombo’s bullshit defense of the mining provision.
The piece begins with a general introduction to the provision under the headline “Some Fear a Vast Sell-Off of U.S. Land.” Fairly quickly we get the first attributed quote, which reads:
"When I first saw it, it took my breath away. It's really quite stunning," said Mat Millenbach, who was deputy director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management during President Bush's first term. "This could have the impact of making public lands harder to get to and use. There will be huge issues of incompatible uses."
This is a great bullshit defense mechanism. We know Pombo’s M.O. is to claim that the opposition to his policies comes from liberal environmental groups who use hyperbole and fear-mongering to raise money for their causes. The fact that the author leads with a quote from a former Bush administration official effectively takes away this type of response.
Furthermore, the quote is not couched in any sort of tree-hugger-esque language. No, this is about our land that we want to use. This isn’t about the kit fox or the spotted owl. This is about hunters who will lose access to their favorite hunting grounds, fishermen who would no longer be able to fish from the streams they fished with their fathers, and all the other Americans who will lose the ability to use and enjoy our natural wild places.
The author returns to the theme of National Parks later in the article and then ties it to the only explanation we get for this crazy provision. The article reads (emphasis mine):
It’s nice to know that Pombo is embarking on this cockamamie scheme because he thinks that we (that is, you and I) as Americans through our federal government, own too much land in the West. You know, a developer like Pombo probably does not understand the value of National Parks to people who do not personally own property. He’s like the rich kid in the playground who not only won’t share his toys, but wants to break the few toys the poor kids have. And he clearly has no intention of trying to figure out why the National Parks mean so much, to so many people.
Park officials are worried that other parts of the proposal could overturn Mojave National Preserve protections that restrict patent claims to minerals and prohibit private acquisition of the land in which the minerals are found. "We are concerned that it's going to open up the Mojave," said David Shaver, chief of geological resources for the National Park Service.The mining provisions were drafted by Republican Jim Gibbons of Nevada. He and Pombo have complained that the federal government owns too much land in the West, and Pombo is spearheading efforts to rescind habitat protections for imperiled wildlife on 150 million acres.
Of course, the article quotes Brian Kennedy, Pombo’s mouthpiece on these types of issues, who demonstrates that he likes to do to the English language that which his boss likes to do the environment.
I mentioned the “to facilitate sustainable economic development” clause in my earlier post about Pombo’s use of bullshit. As I hope I’ve made clear, I think that this article effectively disposes of the most bullshit aspects of Pombo’s claim about this provision.
Resources Committee spokesman Brian Kennedy pointed to the committee's bill report, which said the public purchase provision would allow for the "sale of slivers and small parcels of federal land" next to mine operations. "You or I as private citizens cannot go to the federal government and say I want a mining claim," Kennedy said. "There has to be a legitimate application from a legitimate party."But the article follows the Kennedy quote with a mountain of evidence that in an understated way exposes Kennedy’s (and through him Pombo’s) galling mendaciousness. The article concludes (emphasis mine):
But the BLM, which administers the federal mineral estate, says anyone can stake a mining claim on federal land. They simply have to file an application with the government, physically stake out the boundaries and pay a $125 annual fee to hold it.
Indeed, claims have been sold on EBay. John Leshy, the Interior Department's top lawyer during the Clinton administration, said there is a problem in the Sierra Nevada with people staking mining claims to hold their favorite fishing or camping spot.
Moreover, the section of the pending bill that deals with land purchases by the public does not require a valuable mineral discovery on the new claim. And it orders the Interior secretary to make the land "available for purchase to facilitate sustainable economic development.""
The way I read this, you simply go out onto the public lands still open for [claims], you find some past mineral development activities, and you stake claims contiguous to those and you claim the right to purchase," said Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado School of Law.
Aside from holding a claim, the only requirement for the buyer is to do $7,500 of "mineral development work," which can consist of surveying or road building. The land would be sold for $1,000 an acre or fair market value, minus the worth of any mineral deposits.
"It looks to me like the whole purpose of it is to take public land and to put it in the hands of private people with the full intention of having them develop the land for whatever purposes they see fit," said Sean Hecht, executive director of the UCLA Environmental Law Center. "The more I look at this, the more shocking it really is."
The bill gives no time limits for the claims around which land will be sold, opening up a potentially huge universe. Since 1976, slightly more than 3.2 million claims, averaging 20 acres, have been filed on federal lands, the BLM said. Roughly 282,000 of them were in California.
Millions more were filed going back to Gold Rush days. "At one time or another over the last 130 years, much of the land in the West has had an unpatented mining claim on it," Leshy said. "So it's very hard to say how many acres are involved in that. But it's potentially a very big number."
But I want to end by noting the second sentence I highlighted: “The land would be sold for $1,000 an acre or fair market value, minus the worth of any mineral deposits.” This is not simply a run-of-the-mill use of bullshit. Here the operative word in the sentence is “fair.” I’ve seen in all the articles about this the phrase “fair market value,” and I am fairly confident that the phrase “fair market value” appears in the legislation. “Fair” is a value-laden word, it has more power and meaning than just any word. And we should latch on to this clear and obvious misuse of a word to show how it demonstrates Pombo’s deeper character flaws.
We need to point out that Richard Pombo thinks that the fair value of land does not include the valuable minerals it contains. We need to ask: What the hell is fair about that? What the hell is fair about giving away gold on federal land to mining companies? What the hell is fair about taking our valuable land, yours and mine, and practically giving it away to large (often foreign) companies or big real estate developers?
I submit that there is nothing fair about this at all, and that nobody in their right mind would defend this provision as fair. And so the most charitable conclusions we can draw about Richard Pombo when he calls this provision fair, is that he is either manifestly incompetent, immoral, or dishonest.
Just reason number 56,786 to kick him out of office I guess.