Local reps fly to D.C. to bend ear of national pols

Congressman Salazar tuned in to Crested Butte mine situation
Representatives from the town of Crested Butte have been in Washington, D.C. the last week to lobby national lawmakers and their staffs about reforming the Mining Law of 1872. They also spent time lobbying for help in their quest to protect the town’s watershed which could be in danger with a proposed molybdenum mine on Mount Emmons.



Mayor Alan Bernholtz returned to the valley Tuesday night. Town manager Susan Parker worked with Bernholtz in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, got back to the valley Wednesday and hit the D.C. circuit two days last week as well, with town attorney John Belkin.
“I think the lobbying was effective,” Bernholtz said before catching his flight Tuesday afternoon. “It brought attention to the issue that a lot of senators wouldn’t even know about, especially senators from the East Coast and the South. We need to keep the issue at the forefront of everyone, including the representatives from Colorado. It was a very productive trip.”
Parker said the time in D.C. has been extremely well spent. “Depending on who the congressmen and senators were, we approached each meeting differently,” she said. “We focused on trying to lobby for 1872 reform. We also lobbied for the Forest Service to be able to make a decision of denial in certain cases, since we don’t believe mining is always the highest and best use of public lands.”
Parker said they met with dozens of senators’ staffers from all over the country. “We met a different senator or staff member every half hour,” she said. “For example, we met with Harry Reid’s office twice and it was productive. We spent at least a half-hour to 45 minutes each time with his staff. He’s never been a big supporter of reform, given Nevada’s stake in mining, but he is involved and listening.”
A Senate hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee was held Tuesday to discuss reforming the hardrock mining law. Under the current regulations, which were signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, mining trumps most uses on public land and mining companies pay $5 an acre for the land and little to no royalties on the minerals extracted. Parker and Bernholtz attended that hearing in the U.S. Senate.
Colorado Senator Mark Udall is a member of the committee. U.S. Secretary of the Interior and former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar testified at the hearing.
According to the Washington Post, Salazar said the Obama administration would make reforming the hardrock mining law a top priority. The Post reported that “Salazar told a Senate committee considering reform legislation that ‘it is time to ensure a fair return to the public for mining activities that occur on public lands and to address the cleanup of abandoned mines.’ The General Mining Act of 1872, which gives mining preference over other uses on much of the nation’s public lands, has left a legacy of hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that are polluting rivers and streams throughout the West. Mining companies also don’t pay royalties on gold, silver, copper and other hardrock minerals mined on public land. Reform bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, but past attempts at reform have foundered in the face of opposition from industry and many Western lawmakers.”
“We are committing significant resources from the Department of Interior to get this done,” Ken Salazar told reporters after the hearing. “I think there is a possibility we can get mining reform done in this Congress.”
Environmentalists said they were surprised and pleased by Salazar’s testimony and the forcefulness of his remarks to reporters afterward. “I think it’s a very positive development that we have an Interior secretary in the Obama administration saying mining reform is a top priority and it needs to be done in the Congress,” said Jane Danowitz, director of U.S. public lands programs at the Pew Environment Group.
Bernholtz felt Salazar’s testimony was a little more lukewarm than he wanted. “He certainly understands the complexity of the issue and the need to reform,” Bernholtz explained, “but I felt he was looking for ways to appease everyone. And in typical Washington fashion, the liberals are mad because they think the proposed reforms don’t go far enough and the conservatives think they are too stringent.”
Bernholtz said he took the opportunity to touch base with Salazar after his testimony and spent a few minutes personally lobbying the secretary.
But it was Ken’s brother, Congressman John Salazar, who Bernholtz felt was a more receptive contact. “He’s great and was very helpful,” Bernholtz said. “He took the time to meet with us personally and he expressed the desire to continue to help us with our cause. He’s shown his support in the past and will continue to do so. It was really nice to make himself available during a very busy time on the hill.”
Bernholtz, Parker and Belkin also met with staff members from the offices of Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, along with staff from other congressmen and senators from throughout the country. They spoke not just about the need for overall reform of the 1872 mining law, but about the specific situation in Crested Butte where a molybdenum mine is being planned on Mt. Emmons in the Crested Butte watershed.
Bernholtz doesn’t anticipate any fast movement for reform. “What I heard was that everyone believes there is a need for reform but everyone’s plate is full with bigger issues like health care and energy. There is a lot going on with national issues and this issue pretty much impacts 12 western states,” he said. “I got the feeling it will be hard to get the momentum to get the reform onto the floor of the Senate this session.”
Overall, Bernholtz was glad the trip was made. “We are further ahead than last year at this time,” he said. “It was a productive trip and one that will pay off.”
Parker agreed. “I think it was a good trip. There are definitely other national issues dominating the staffs but I think we made good inroads to get them the information they need. Actually, it was a more positive trip than last year. We heard that they believe in reform but there is still work to do.”
Part of the trip expense was paid for by the Western Organization of Resource Councils but the town picked up most of the tab. Based in Montana, the WORC helps provide training and coordinating regional issue campaigns in seven western states.

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