GOP Withdraws Proposal to Sell Off Public Lands

Opposition from at least 11 Western Senators has caused House majority leaders to drop a proposal that would have allowed the federal government to sell off millions of acres of public land to mining companies eager to expand their operations. The contentious provision was slated to be part of a federal belt-tightening bill now working is way through Congressional committee hearings. Several Democratic Senators had threatened to filibuster the bill when it percolated up to them if it contained the mining land sale proposal.

Even a last ditch effort to water down the provision by eliminating acreage that no longer contained any mineral value was not enough to appease the Senate Democrats opposed to it. House Resources Committee Chair Dick Pombo, who sponsored the contentious provision along with Nevada Republican Jim Gibbons, hinted that the GOP would still be seeking ways to “modernize mining law” during 2006.

Environmentalists have been bracing for a full frontal assault on key environmental laws by the Republican majorities in Congress. This recent setback for House Republicans, though, coupled with their withdrawal of an otherwise successful bid to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling this past fall, may signal that the GOP’s bark is worse than its bite when it comes to green concerns. Or maybe they are listening to their non-corporate constituents, as a majority of Americans still favor stronger environmental protection statutes.