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McKeon: no Cemex bill in ’11

In light of earmark ban, local congressman plans to support Sen. Barbara Boxer’s anti-mining bill

Posted: February 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Blaming prohibitive new anti-earmark rules, the Santa Clarita Valley’s congressman said Tuesday he will not introduce a new bill to ban mining in Soledad Canyon during this congressional session.

“I am fully committed to working with the city of Santa Clarita, local community groups and Cemex to find a satisfactory resolution to mining in Soledad Canyon,” U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, said Tuesday in an e-mail to The Signal.

But the legislation has been determined to be an “earmark,” McKeon said, and House Republicans have vowed to fight earmarks since winning a majority in November. President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, said he will veto any legislation containing earmarks.

Earmarks are spending provisions that direct federal funds to specific projects to benefit an individual congressional members’ districts or provide exemptions from taxes or mandated fees.

Cemex, a Mexican mining firm, purchased mining contracts from the Bureau of Land Management in 1990 to open a 56 million-ton sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon.

Santa Clarita city officials and eastside residents have been fighting the plan for years, saying it would compromise air quality, make traffic on Highway 14 unbearable and otherwise negatively affect Santa Clarita Valley residents.
Since at least 2004, McKeon has proposed congressional legislation to block Cemex’s proposal by banning mining in Soledad Canyon. None has passed.

In the e-mail communication, he said Tuesday he would have tried again this year, but for the determination that such legislation constitutes an earmark.

McKeon said he can’t reintroduce the anti-mining legislation until the earmarks issue is resolved.

“While I disagree with the interpretation, I support the current congressional ban on earmarks, which is intended to curb federal spending,” he wrote in the e-mail. “I cannot under the House Rules reintroduce the legislation.”

However, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is expected to introduce a bill containing similar language into the Senate. It would be the second year in a row she has done so.

Almost a year ago to the day, Boxer introduced Senate Bill S3057, or the Soledad Canyon High Desert, California Public Lands Conservation and Management Act.

Her bill is still expected to direct the Secretary of the Interior to cancel the Cemex mining contracts drawn up with the Bureau of Land Management and to still compensate Cemex when all is said and done.

“Cemex looks forward to working with Senator Boxer and her staff to introduce essentially the same bill that was introduced last Congress,” Leslie White, executive vice president and general counsel for Cemex, said in an e-mail Tuesday.

“We remain hopeful that the work we have done with the city of Santa Clarita over the last two Congresses will produce a positive outcome this year.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, joined in the call to ban earmarks. He said the the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, will implement a moratorium on earmarks for the current session.

Mike Murphy, Santa Clarita’s intergovernmental relations officer, is also optimistic about the Boxer bill.

“We’re confident it can be enacted,” he said. Murphy met with McKeon on the matter Jan. 21. “In the end, it will likely be folded into an omnibus natural resources bill.”

Last month, the 111th Congress adjourned without having passed the legislation sponsored by McKeon and co-sponsored by Congressmen Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks.

“It’s going to be harder to get it through this year than last year,” Sherman said Tuesday.

“Anti-earmark legislation means one more difficulty on top of all the other difficulties.”

Sherman said he will follow McKeon’s lead when it comes to Cemex.

“I’m just second fiddle here. When the first fiddle says it’s time to be silent, I’ll be silent,” he said.

Sherman’s district takes in only a small sliver of southeastern Santa Clarita Valley.

Having the issue folded into an omnibus bill covering natural resources might just work, Sherman said.

“If you’re not allowed to have any milk, and you still need a small cup of milk, you’re going to get none at all,” he said, referring to prohibitive earmark legislation. “But if you’re baking a giant cake, which calls for three ounces of milk in it, it might just slip through.”

Under McKeon’s previous proposed legislation, the Bureau of Land Management would have sold three parcels of land in Victorville and used the proceeds to pay Cemex the value of its canceled mining contracts.

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