blank.gif (51 bytes) Rural Wrap

Get Your Government Giveaway: Just $80 Million

by Dan Steninger

attle Mountain Gold and Crown Resources began the process of opening the Crown Jewel Mine in Washington early this decade. So far, these developers have poured $80 million into the project and have acquired in excess of 50 permits and posted $50 million worth of bonds to assure there will be money ready to address any environmental problems that might emerge.

These efforts resulted in approvals from the agents of the relevant local, state and federal agencies in January of 1997. Now, if that were the end of that, I’d have an example of the ludicrous hurdles put in the way of resource developers: that’s $80 million that wonıt be going into wages for miners, contracts for suppliers, donations and tax revenues to local communities and profits for investors. Eighty million dollars and half a dozen years just to get to the starting line. I guess that explains why there was no 1990s gold rush after Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt went on television telling the nation about the sweet deal mining companies were getting under the Mining Law, which requires the central government to turn over federal property to whoever finds a mineral deposit: there aren’t a whole lot of prospectors out there with six years time to kill and $80 million to spend in order to participate in this "giveaway."

Amazingly, though, that was not the end of that. After the project got the green light in 1997, the project got kicked upstairs, where it was decided last month in the nation’s capital that the whole effort is going to go down the drain due to a technicality involving a few thousand dollars worth of land.

The Mining Law—written back before the central government decided it would rather be a landlord, in the words of our very own Sen. Harry Reid, instead of hewing to its legitimate functions—was designed as one way to dispose of some of the land out West that the government was holding in trust until it could be turned over to private citizens and put to productive use.

A citizen could locate valuable minerals on that land, pay a few fees, and acquire the property for a mine and a mill to process the ore. Idle property thus became a source of minerals for our society, profits for investors and taxes for all the layers of government.

Of course, others, notably the aforementioned Interior Secretary and the special interests for which he carries water, put a different spin on it. The Mining Law, they say, is a "rip-off" of the American taxpayers—as if we are to believe that they think ripping off taxpayers is a bad thing. By their reasoning, to stretch the meaning of that word, the minerals in the ground belong to the government and anybody going to the trouble of digging them up by rights ought to then turn the minerals over to the government. That nobody would bother under such a scenario, and no resources would be developed, they don’t mention.

Regardless, that’s their official position: that mining on federal lands is a bad thing.

Since mining is an affront to the Interior secretary, Crown Jewel may be in jeopardy. But Babbitt left the miners an out. Opposing mining isn’t the only item on Babbitt’s agenda; and by holding Crown Jewel hostage, Babbitt figures, probably correctly, that he can advance another of those items—seizing control of the West’s water. Mining isn’t the only thing the Great Landlord doesnıt like going on out West. In fact, if one were to examine the new policy of "Livable Communities," one would get the strong impression that there shouldn’t be any people out here in the sticks at all. We residents of sparsely populated areas really ought to pack up our belongings and rent rooms in Reno or Las Vegas—no new houses, please; if the internal combustion engine doesn’t do us in, suburbs will, don’t you know—so the countryside will remain unsullied. And what’s the best way to depopulate a desert area? Thatıs right, take away the water.

According to the Interior Department’s rejection letter: "We emphasize that there are ways for BMG to still proceed with developing the Crown Jewel Mine ..." Those ways, to get more specific, are for Battle Mountain Gold to go buy a few thousand acres of ranch land and water rights and trade it to the Interior Department in exchange for a few acres to put up Crown Jewel’s mill.

It’s extortion, pure and simple, for the purpose of expanding Interior’s empire; and it will probably work. And not only in the case of Crown Jewel. We have to keep in mind that this new interpretation of the Mining Law was applied retroactively to Crown Jewel. Would it be safe to assume there are a lot of miners out there putting in calls to the Interior Department, asking just which ranches the department would like the miners to buy for it, in exchange for the department’s promise not to make them tear down their "oversized" mills?

I’d say that’s a pretty safe assumption. Chalk up another victory for the bad guys. NJ

Dan Steninger (dsten@cyberhighway.net ) is editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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