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GOP ends push of public land sales for mining

House Republicans have dropped a provision in budget legislation that would have permitted the sale of public lands for mining.
/ Source: The Associated Press

House Republicans have dropped a provision in budget legislation that would have allowed the sale of public lands for mining.

Western senators had criticized the provision, which would have overturned an 11-year-old congressional ban that prevents mineral companies from “patenting,” or buying, public land at cheap prices if the land contains mineral deposits.

Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., author of the mining legislation, revised the provision Monday in an attempt to gain some Western support. The new version dropped language that would have allowed the direct sale of some lands that no longer contained minerals.

On Tuesday, Gibbons said it was clear that even the revised provision would not make it through the Senate, where some senators had threatened to use parliamentary maneuvers to block it.

Critics — including hunters, anglers and several Democratic Western governors — said the legislation could prompt the sale of millions of acres of public lands.

Gibbons, a mining lawyer before he came to Congress, said those claims were exaggerated and development would have helped boost the economy in mining towns.

The mining provision was included in the House version of larger budget legislation designed to cut federal spending. House and Senate negotiators are attempting to finish work on that bill this week.

Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, one of the Republicans opposed to the language, said Tuesday that “the mining provision never belonged in the budget reconciliation package.”

“It’s important to give a voice to those who are so closely connected to our public lands,” Thomas said.

A spokesman for House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo said he would work with Gibbons to modernize mining law next year.