The House is now scheduled to vote on West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall’s mining reform bill Wednesday, Halloween. As expected, Idaho’s two Republicans will vote “No.”
In a state where the mining industry remains an important employer in places like Challis and the Silver Valley, both former miner Rep. Bill Sali and Rep. Mike Simpson are not going to roam far from reform positions that go all the way back to Sen. James McClure’s unsuccessful efforts to get the mining industry to seek limited reforms in the 1980s.
Rahall’s bill would place an 8 percent royalty on minerals extracted from public lands on new mines and 4 percent on existing mines. It has other provisions to halt all transfer of public lands to miners and to beef up environmental protection.
But the big fight will be on the money. Senate Majority Harry Reid’s staff told me last week Reid will not support ANY royalty on existing mines.
That means when the bill passes the House, Rahall and environmentalists will have a major decision to make. Do they want to pass a reform package that fixes most of the problems of the 135-year old law but doesn’t go as far as they want?
Or do they sit down with Reid and negotiate for the best bill they can get even though in their minds it will be flawed? This is the basic challenge of our form of government and this issue highlights it as well as any.
Even with a strong majority in support of civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, for instance, a powerful minority from the South kept the broad Civil Rights Act from passing until 1964 with the threat of a filibuster in the Senate.
To overcome a filibuster, which continues debate indefinitely, the majority must get 60 votes to end it.
Environmentalists and Rahall will have to consider whether waiting will give them the overwhelming support they would need to overcome the filibuster in the Senate.