As the House hammered out its budget reconciliation bill last week, all eyes were on the Arctic and offshore drilling provisions it contained. Thankfully, those were stripped from the package, but meanwhile another particularly heinous provision was snuck in without debate or consideration. As Grist's Muckraker explains
, the provision would rejigger the Mining Act of 1872 to
allow the Interior Department to sell tens of millions of acres of public lands in the American West -- including more than 2 million acres inside or within a few miles of national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas -- to international mining companies, oil and gas prospectors, real-estate developers, and, well, anyone else who's interested. The stated aim is to generate an estimated $158 million in revenue over the next five years to help curb the monstrous federal deficit.
As Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope pointed out
, since the Mining Law effectively gives the land away in the first place, the move is "akin to trying to balance your household budget by selling a Rembrandt at a garage sale." It doesn't add up. So, who's the genius behind the proposal. Why, Mr. Pombo
, of course. Not only does his rewrite of the law lift an 11-year-old moratorium on mining patents, (by which mining companies can buy a mining claim), it also eliminates the requirement that a mining claim contain an economically viable mineral deposit. In fact, Pombo's provision is not about mining at all. Nor is it about deficit reduction. What the legislation is really about is selling off public lands to speculators at bargain basement prices.