Pombo's Latest Joke

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), November 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

Pombo's Latest Joke


Byline: The Register-Guard

Buried deep in the bowels of a massive budget bill that is churning its way through the House - and overshadowed by proposals to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the nation's coastlines to oil drilling - is a provision that could lead to the sale of as many as 20 million acres of public land, including national park and forest lands, to mining interests.

The proposal is an environmental rollback of epic proportions. It would lift an 11-year-old ban on the sale of federal land to mining companies and make millions of acres of public lands available to companies for the bargain-basement price of $1,000 per acre or fair market value (not including the value of mineral deposits), whichever is higher.

This breathtaking giveaway is the brainchild of Rep. Richard Pombo, a California Republican who chairs the House Resources Committee and has a fondness for legislation that sends environmentalists screaming into the night. Pombo was the author of another budget bill provision that would have opened up the Arctic refuge to drilling. Last month, Pombo introduced a proposal that would have privatized 15 national parks, although his aides later insisted it was just a joke. What a card.

A bit of background helps put Pombo's latest abomination in perspective: The U.S. mining industry is governed by an 1872 law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, that allows individuals or companies to buy or "patent" mineral-laden lands for $5 an acre. Incredibly, that price has never changed. Until Congress placed a moratorium on such sales in 1994, the 1872 law allowed lopsided transactions that made headlines in Oregon and across the nation.

Under Pombo's proposal, individuals and companies would be allowed to buy land they are mining, as well as adjacent parcels for "sustainable economic development" - conveniently vague wording that presumably could include real estate investments (think wilderness resorts, golf courses, retirement villages). …

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