2000 Scorecard Vote
According to the EPA, hardrock mining produces almost half of the toxic pollution reported in the United States, making the mining industry the nation's largest toxic polluter. Today's mines for "hardrock" minerals, such as gold, silver, platinum and copper, often cover thousands of acres and descend hundreds of feet into the ground, generating mountains of toxic waste. Dozens of mining waste sites are on the Superfund list of the nation's most toxic sites and clean up costs can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, the only regulations written specifically to protect public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from the damaging impacts of hardrock mining are the weak and outdated "3809" regulations, issued in 1981 by Interior Secretary James Watt. Since 1997, the Department of Interior has attempted to strengthen these to:
- Require mining companies to cover potential cleanup costs by paying a sufficient insurance deposit or bond before mining begins;
- Hold mining companies accountable to strong environmental performance standards, including those that govern the creation and disposal of toxic waste; and
- Allow BLM to prevent mines from being located in places where they would irreparably damage environmentally sensitive public lands.
Mining industry advocates in Congress have succeeded in blocking these needed reforms for the past three years. The revised 3809 rule is due to become final in November 2000. However, this year Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Frank Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a rider to H.R. 4461, the Fiscal Year 2001 Agriculture appropriations bill, that would have effectively gutted the revised rule.
In response, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) offered an amendment that would have reaffirmed the Interior Secretary's broad authority to strengthen the 3809 regulations. By offering the amendment, Durbin hoped to force a debate and vote on the substance of these issues. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) called for a point of order against Durbin's amendment, arguing that it was not germane (relevant) to agricultural appropriations. Durbin had earlier attempted, and failed, to argue that the Craig-Murkowski rider was not germane to the bill.
On July 20, 2000, the Senate voted, 36–56, that the Durbin amendment was not germane, thereby preventing a vote on the amendment (Senate roll call vote 224). YES is the pro-environment vote. The mining rider was ultimately stripped from the Agriculture appropriations bill in conference; however a similar rider was added to the Interior appropriations conference report by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). The Clinton administration was able to negotiate modifications to the rider language that made it no longer objectionable to environmental advocates of mining reform. Stronger environmental mining regulations are due to be published by the end of 2000.