Babbitt Assails Mining Deal as Taxpayer Rip-Off

Article excerpt

In what he called a "historic giveaway," Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt reluctantly gave a Canadian mining corporation clear title Monday to harvest one of the world's richest veins of gold from U.S.-owned land in return for a payment of only $9,000 to the federal Treasury.

The agreement, which was ordered by a federal judge, could mean huge profits to American Barrick Resources Corp. Interior Department officials estimate the value of gold on the land that Barrick got Monday at $8 billion to $10 billion.

Babbitt said the deal underscored the need to reform the 19th-century law governing mining on national lands - an initiative high on the agenda of President Bill Clinton's administration.

"Many mining companies are not paying their fair share," he said, standing beneath an enlarged check for $10 billion that was written out to Barrick and signed by "The American People."

"They're ripping off the American people fair and square. But it is a rip-off, and it ought to be changed."

Babbitt called the Barrick patent "the biggest gold heist since the days of Butch Cassidy."

The patent approval Monday came after Babbitt failed to win legal support for a freeze on the awarding of mining patents until a reform bill could be passed. That bill is heading toward a House-Senate negotiation. But strong opposition from Western senators promises to make the issue yet another political firestorm pitting rural industries against urban environmentalists and the Interior Department.

In the meantime, Barrick's patent claim for about 1,800 acres of federal land in northeastern Nevada had to be approved without delay, a federal judge ruled in April. …