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Cemex bills near dead end

Boxer’s legislation sits in committee’s hands while McKeon’s plan may be blocked by ban

Posted: November 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.

While their sponsors remain officially optimistic, two congressional bills to halt a giant open-pit mine in Canyon Country appear to be dead in the water — at least in their current forms — as the 112th Congress wraps up.

During the waning weeks before the end of the session, members of Congress are scrambling to reach an agreement to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a combination of looming tax hikes and budget cuts, before they head home to their districts. That, and a plethora of other unpassed bills, not to mention the lack of progress made by the two bills related to the proposed mine, seems to spell their doom.

Dec. 14 marks the last day of the session.

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s bill, S. 759, is officially still active in the Senate, but no action has taken place since it was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on April 7, 2011.

Since then, representatives for the Democratic senator from California have been in contact with the city of Santa Clarita, Cemex — the firm that holds contracts for the mine — and members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to examine the most effective legislative means to get the bill passed as quickly as possible, a spokesman said.

“Passing this bill to stop the mine in Soledad Canyon is a top priority for Sen. Boxer,” said spokesman Zachary Coile. “We have been actively working with Santa Clarita officials and Cemex on efforts to move this legislation through the Senate.”

A bill introduced more recently by Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, faces similar hurdles and another big obstacle in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

The House renewed its anti-earmarks ban after the Nov. 6 election to extend through the 113th Congress, which takes office in January.

Earmarks are defined as spending proposals that benefit a specific district. House Republicans see them as obstacles to fiscal responsibility and have pledged to reject them.

The earmarks ban, first passed two years ago, blocked McKeon’s proposed Cemex mine bill H.R. 4332 that would have allowed the Cemex mining site to be swapped for federal land in the High Desert near Victorville. McKeon has proposed legislation for the land swap for years without success.

Since the deal involves federal land, Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, labeled it an earmark and said it was banned.

To get around the ban, McKeon introduced a new piece of legislation, H.R. 6469, in September.

Titled the Soledad Canyon Mine Mitigation and Relocation Act, the bill would instruct the U.S. secretary of the interior, acting through the Bureau of Land Management, to take the administrative and legal steps necessary to carry out the vision of McKeon’s original bill.

This would mean McKeon’s original proposed action would go through the Bureau of Land Management and not through Congress, theoretically avoiding the earmark ban.

But the bill calls on Congress to authorize the secretary of the interior’s actions.

“I believe we have arrived at a workable path with this legislation and I am committed to bringing this bill to the floor of the House,” McKeon said last week.

If the bill cannot be passed as a standalone item this session, McKeon spokeswoman Alissa McCurley said, his office will examine either rolling it in with a larger piece of legislation or reintroducing it next session.

Coile said Boxer’s office was open and willing to work with McKeon’s staff to find a joint solution on the matter.



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