Submitted by Oxfam America
The House Republican leadership pulled the budget reconciliation bill from the floor last Thursday when it became clear that they did not have the votes to pass it. The House is expected to resume discussions on the bill today with a vote possible this week.
EARTHWORKS, a Washington, DC-based environmental organization, Oxfam America, a humanitarian relief and development organization, and Westerners for Responsible Mining, a coalition committed to protecting public lands and communities in the western U.S. welcomed the unexpected action by Jewelers of America.
"We applaud Jewelers of America for their strong stand against this sneak attack on our western public land heritage," said Steve D'Esposito, president of EARTHWORKS. "All of us who have a direct stake in this issue, including local communities, jewelry companies, mining professionals and mining companies, should stand together. By allowing the reckless privatization of our public lands, Pombo's provisions would promote land speculation and real estate development, which could threaten the interests of responsible mining companies." D'Esposito added.
An excerpt from the Jewelers of America letter states: "Any reforms to the mining laws must be done in the 'light of day' with full consideration by the committees of jurisdiction and with ample opportunity for the public to examine and comment on the legislation. Disguising major changes in our environmental laws as 'miscellaneous' and merely a 'revenue raiser' simply does not serve the public interest. These lands have been held in trust for the public and should be treated as such." (A copy of the letter is posted at: http://www.bettermines.org/pubs/JoA%20letter.pdf)
"Jewelers of America has demonstrated that companies that sell products containing gold and other metals are becoming increasingly concerned about how their products are produced. They want to see respect for the environment and community rights, including the rights of Native Americans, whose sacred lands could be destroyed by this legislation," said Ian Gary, policy advisor for Oxfam America.
Jewelers of America has a stake in the outcome of this legislative battle because its retail members depend on the consumer appeal of gold and other minerals and metals. If the "land grab" Rep. Pombo is pushing in the budget bill becomes law, the nation could witness more on-the-ground battles erupting as mining corporations and other private interests buy treasured public lands, such as the portion of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness where a highly controversial silver and copper mine, the Rock Creek Mine, has been proposed. Tiffany & Co., a member of Jewelers of America, ran an open letter in The Washington Post in 2004 calling for protection of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness from a proposed mine.
"Thanks to Jewelers of America for standing up for special places like the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area," said Mary Mitchell, executive director of Rock Creek Alliance, based in Sandpoint, Idaho. "Congress should listen to Jewelers of America and other business and community leaders and take the mining provisions out of the budget bill.
Mitchell and others are concerned that Revett Minerals Inc. could simply buy public land adjacent to the wilderness and move ahead with the mine without any federal agency oversight of the potential impacts that pollution from the mine would have on the nearby Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho's largest freshwater lake.
Altogether, more than 270 million acres of federal public lands in the West would be thrown open for sale if the current version of House budget bill becomes law. Those places that are threatened include national parks, forests, and sacred sites, such as the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, Joshua Tree National Park and Tahoe National Forest in California, and Mt. Tenabo in Nevada. Former high-level government officials, including Mike Dombeck, former Chief of the U.S. Forest Service and Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management, and John Leshy, former Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior, also oppose the measure.
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