House Committee Revives Cheap Land Sales to Mining Interests

In an effort to generate revenue to rein in the ballooning federal deficit, the House Resources Committee has approved a federal budget package calling for an end to a decade-old moratorium on the sale of public lands to mining companies. Committee Chair Dick Pombo said that the contentious provision would add $2.4 billion or more to federal coffers over five years.

Prior to the Clinton-era ban on selling federal property to resource extractors, public lands could be turned over to mining interests for as little as $2.50 an acre per order of an antiquated 1872 law. Pombo’s new provision would overturn the moratorium by allowing mining companies to scoop up federal land for $1,000 an acre.

Representative Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, decried the proposal as a "massive giveaway of public resources." He also expressed concern about the back-door process of slipping such major land use reform into a larger budget bill, and proposed an amendment to strike the changes accordingly. While the committee rejected Udall’s amendment, it did agree to add in language limiting mining in national parks and conservation areas.

Not surprisingly, mining industry representatives are cheering the proposed changes as a way for the federal government to generate revenue while boosting an otherwise flagging industry. Environmentalists are calling the process of tagging the mining reforms onto a budget bill a Trojan horse to gut land protection across the American West. The bill is now on its way to the House Budget Committee, where it will be reviewed before being voted on by the larger House before the end of the year.