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Andrew Fried: The BLM isn’t looking out for us

Posted: March 2, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 2, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

Over the past decade, Safe Action For the Environment Inc., the city of Santa Clarita and other community leaders have battled to save Soledad Canyon from the planned Cemex mega-mine, seeking cancellation of two 10-year contracts in which 56 million tons of aggregate would be extracted from the proposed mine site just outside Santa Clarita city limits.

And now it’s become clear that if the Bureau of Land Management gets its way, this isn’t just going to be a mega-mine. It will be a mega-mega-mega-mega-mega-mine.

That’s five megas. But we’re not exactly hitting the lottery.

You see, in testimony regarding a bill that would cancel the mining contracts and compensate Cemex through the proceeds generated by a sale of surplus federal lands, a top BLM official made it clear that the BLM’s intent isn’t just to saddle Santa Clarita Valley residents with the traffic, dust, and unhealthy air quality the mine would produce over the 20 years covered by Cemex’s mining contracts.

The BLM wants more.

During those “first” 20 years, 56 million tons of aggregate would be mined from the site, generating an estimated $28 million to $123 million in royalties for the BLM, depending on whose crystal ball prevails.

But that’s not enough for the BLM. It wants to stick SCV residents with those impacts for another 80 years after that.

“Because the legislation also prohibits future mineral materials mining on the lands, sale of the remaining 300 million tons of aggregate and future federal royalties, estimated at a minimum of $450 million, would be foregone as well despite remaining under federal ownership,” said Steven A. Ellis, acting deputy director of the BLM, in Nov. 20 testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.

The testimony was delivered during a hearing on Sen. Barbara Boxer’s S. 771, which is the result of years of negotiation including Cemex and the city of Santa Clarita, which opposes the mine.

Cemex has postponed its mining plans in recent years, willing to negotiate a legislative solution that fairly compensates the company for the value of its mining contracts while averting the negative impacts the mine would have on the community.

But Cemex will only wait so long, and its patience already has been tested over the past couple of years of legislative wrangling. This is the year: We need S. 771 to pass, and save the SCV from a mega-mine (times five).

The BLM, though, stands in the way — and its key motivating factor is not what’s best for the quarter-million American taxpayers who would be impacted by the mine, but for how much money the mine can generate for Washington bureaucrats to spend.

Ellis’ figures are, of course, speculative. How much would the BLM’s royalties add up to over 20 years? Subject to debate. Over another 80 years? More debate.

But in any case, the BLM deputy director’s testimony indicates the BLM presumes the mining will not end with the expiration of Cemex’s 20 years’ worth of contracts. If the BLM gets its way, the mining will continue for another 80 years beyond that, and the government bureaucrats don’t seem to think there’s much that could stop it.

Such callous disregard for a century’s worth of health and welfare of SCV residents — for the sake of the almighty buck and a bureaucracy’s self-preservation — is frightening to say the least.

Ellis’ testimony to the Senate panel is also misleading. The “other 80 years” of mining would be anything but a foregone conclusion.

Does anyone think 80 additional years of mining contracts could be tacked on to the same site without an additional environmental review and entitlement process?

Sure, the first 20 years of Cemex mining would be a rather large foot in the door. But even considering that, and even with the government keeping federal pre-emption as the ace up its sleeve, it seems highly unlikely there wouldn’t be some sort of review.

If nothing else, the environmental impact report/statement for the first 20 years of mining will be more than three decades old by that point. Would they really be allowed to continue without a new environmental impact study?

Seems doubtful. But do we want to risk that?

For SCV residents, there’s a more urgent need than ever to see Boxer’s S.771 pass this year, before it’s too late and Cemex decides it can’t wait any longer.

What can you do? SAFE urges you to write letters supporting S.771 to President Obama, Sen. Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon and other legislative leaders, as well as the BLM, and let them know it’s unacceptable to saddle the SCV with 20 years of negative mining impacts — or, worse, 100 years.

Time is running out. There’s no telling what would happen at the end of the first 20 years of mining, but this much is certain:

The BLM isn’t looking out for us. For current BLM leadership, the bottom line is more important than your health.

Andrew Fried, an Agua Dulce resident, is president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc. For more information regarding SAFE and S. 771, visit www.Safe4Environment.org.

 

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