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By J. P. Tangen
For Mining News 

Tangen: What light through yonder window breaks?


Last updated 1/27/2008 at Noon

During this brief respite between the U.S. House and Senate considerations of mining law reform legislation, it is timely to review the bidding. Where are we? Where are we going? How do we get there?

We know these things: The House passed legislation (H.R. 2262) is an anathema. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that there will be mining law reform legislation passed, if not in this Congress, probably in the next one. Until the recent Northwest Mining Association Convention, many of us were groping to find any silver lining at all (no pun intended) in the way things were unfolding.

At last, I can perhaps come out from the darkness to report three or four points, which should give America hope that the death knell has not sounded for mining on federal public lands.

First, in no particular order, the Bush administration has indicated that the president's advisers will recommend a veto if anything coming out of Congress resembles HR 2262. There probably are not sufficient votes in the Senate to override a veto; so a small ray of hope shines through because of this extraordinary statement of administration policy. Time wounds all heels, they say (Pun definitely intended).

Next, Sen. Barack Obama has come out in opposition to HR 2262. I personally wasn't planning to ask for a blue ballot next November, but if there are any true believers in the audience, perhaps this sort of thing might sway your allegiance. Since most of the candidate field, left as well as right, doesn't come from public land states (apologies to Sen. John McCain and Gov. Bill Richardson who seem to have steadfastly maintained silence on this issue), it was far more likely that euthanizing miners would constitute a sop to granola munchkins than fostering a domestic mineral self-sufficiency. With Obama in the fray, the equation has changed ever so slightly.

Also in 2009, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, becomes eligible for ranking status in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That affirmative voice on behalf of a lot of hard-working miners in Alaska and other less-fortunate states, ensures that the torch dropped in the men's room in Minneapolis will be once again lifted high.

In addition, a new wrinkle has emerged. Google "copper theft" the next time you're waiting for the phone to ring. I got 58,600 hits on my first try. While the Pebble and Donlin Creek projects represent a huge resource, whether or not they will offset the lure of money strung between telephone poles remains to be seen. We can never forget that the largest deposit of copper in the world is probably above ground on Manhattan Island. Copper patina could become the new green shade of choice. There is a certain irony in having one's eco-roadster stolen for the copper under the hood.

While the folks-who-never-seem-to-get-it-right wring their hands over whether cow flatulence kills whales, they also may need to consider how copper shortages contribute to crime.

Today's lesson, therefore, is that there is hope. Between the senator from Illinois and the senator from Idaho, there has emerged a straw we can grasp. If the junior senator from the Hudson were to lose her lights and inside plumbing to scavengers, then maybe she too would decide that mining law reform was properly dead on its arrival at the Senate clerk's well.


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