Proposed mining law proves divisive statewide |

Proposed mining law proves divisive statewide

Brandon Johnson

Public land advocates and some politicians on the Western Slope are opposing mining legislation they say would allow industry to buy up public lands in the West.

But the mining industry says the legislation is needed to ease undue burdens on mining operations on public lands.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nevada and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., inserted the legislation into a budget resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. The mining language is not in the version of the bill before the Senate, but it could be added.

A House-Senate conference committee is expected to work out the discrepancies between the bills.

If the bill passes, mining companies would be allowed to purchase public lands that they have previously been restricted from buying.

A variety of groups, including environmentalists, hunters and the ski industry officials, have opposed the bill.

Opponents say the measure is too loosely worded and would allow mining companies and real estate developers to buy and develop public land and use it for private ends other than mining.

Colorado Counties Inc. earlier this week drafted a resolution opposing the bill.

Larry Kallenberger, the lobbying group’s executive director, said the group voted to oppose the bill based on concerns from counties on the Western Slope.

The bill is too vague and doesn’t provide protections against developers buying land and developing it for purposes other than mining, Kallenberger said.

“It is a bill that no one understands completely,” he said.

But supporters in the mining industry say the bill requires companies to prove they would use the land for mining before they buy it.

“What the anti-mining community has done is create their own fictitious bill and chosen to attack it,” said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association.

The bill would lift a moratorium on mining companies buying public lands that has been in place for 11 years.

Companies are allowed to lease public land for mining. But investors balk at backing mining projects on leased land, Sanderson said.

“Ownership of the property is essential to the success of the mining project,” he said.

Opponents of the measure also say it should be debated on its own, not as part of a larger budget bill.

“If they vote ‘no’ on the bill, they’re voting ‘no’ on the budget reconciliation,” Kallenberger said.

But because companies have to pay the federal government for any land, a budget bill is a reasonable place for the legislation, Sanderson said.

Moffat County commissioners Saed Tayyara and Darryl Steele attended the Colorado Counties Inc. meeting when the group voted to oppose the legislation.

Tayyara said he voted to oppose the legislation because he was satisfied with the status quo.

The decision came after very little discussion, Tayyara said.

Steele said he isn’t sure he opposes the legislation anymore.

“I don’t think it was discussed enough and fully explained,” he said.

Steele said he was under the impression the bill would greatly change the 1872 mining law, which he supports.

But he said the moratorium on legitimate mining patents is one that should be repealed.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or

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