The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved an industry-backed version of mining law reform Thursday, deliberately leaving many volatile issues to be worked out in negotiations between the Senate and House, which is expected to approve stronger legislation.
Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), chairman of the committee, said that his strategy is intended to speed the most easily passed bill through the committee and onto the Senate floor, hoping to avoid protracted argument. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Ida.), provides senators with "a ticket" to compromise deliberations with the House, Johnston said.
In adopting the Craig bill, however, committee members abandoned a far tougher measure supported by environmentalists.
The Craig bill would impose a 2% net royalty on such hardrock minerals as gold, silver and platinum. The tougher version, introduced by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), calls for an 8% royalty on gross receipts, plus other broad reforms of the 1972 mining act.
It is generally expected that the House will pass a bill similar to Bumpers' measure. If it does, conferees would be left to settle such differences as the size of royalty.
Although the Johnston tactic left environmentalists disgruntled, the chairman reminded colleagues that it had worked before, most recently last year when it was used to break the logjam over legislation controlling water rights in California's Central Valley.
"This is our best hope," Johnston said, "of getting a good, fair and honest bill."
Environmentalists were nonplussed by the legislative maneuver, denouncing the Craig bill as a mockery of reform.
The American Mining Congress called the legislation "a reasoned approach to raising federal revenue without crippling the mining industry and costing thousands of Americans their jobs."
The mining industry claims that the Bumpers bill would cost 47,000 jobs over 10 years in mining and in communities dependent on mining in 12 Western states.