Byline: The Register-Guard
Western governors rarely agree on any issue, whether it's salmon or logging. So when the governors of Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington join to warn against a plan to permit the bargain-basement sale of millions of acres of federal lands, Congress should pay attention.
Last month, the House passed a mega-budget bill that included a little-noticed provision sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. Any legislation with Pombo's name on it deserves scrutiny. The chairman of the House Resources Committee has, among other things, proposed neutering the federal Endangered Species Act, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, privatizing 15 national parks and reopening coastlines to oil and gas drilling.
Pombo's latest proposal is breathtaking. It would revise the nation's 133-year-old mining law to allow holders of mining claims on public lands, mostly in Western states such as Oregon, to buy those lands outright instead of leasing them. The fire-sale price: $1,000 an acre or fair market value (not including mineral values), whichever is greater.
The bill's supporters insist it would affect only a few hundred thousand acres where mining claims are being developed or explored. But the wording is so vague that it could result in the sale of anywhere between 6 million and 350 million acres, including national parks and wilderness. Worse yet, the bill does not require that the buyers develop mineral claims - or even establish that the lands they're acquiring have mining potential. …