Ensign: Mining Bill Will Die In Senate

U.S. Sen. John Ensign said a mining reform bill passed by the House that imposes first-ever federal royalties on mining will be "dead on arrival" in the Senate, if it makes it that far.

"There's no chance for that bill in the Senate," Ensign, R-Nev., said during a conference call with rural reporters on Thursday. "I'm not even convinced we'll hear it."

When asked about the mood in the Senate for the bill, Ensign said, "All I can tell you is that if this bill, in its current form, comes to me I will do everything in my legislative power to kill it."

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007, passed by the House in November, would impose the first-ever federal royalties on gold, silver, copper and other metals mines, beef up environmental controls and give federal agencies the ability to say "No" to a mine that would irreparably harm the environment.

It would allow local, state and tribal governments to petition the federal government to withdraw certain lands from the filing of new mining claims.

Nevada is the nation's largest gold producer.

During 2006, Nevada mines produced 6.3 million ounces of gold, 8.5 million ounces of silver and 127.6 million pounds of copper.

The industry, which employs about 11,000 workers in Nevada, is also the state's highest paid employment sector.

Industry officials have said they don't oppose updating the law, or even charging royalties.

But they say the House bill's fees would be punitive and that provisions allowing denial of mining claims would hurt the industry.

Ensign also said that a big cut in the budget for the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is another sign the project is doomed.

"I don't think Yucca Mountain will ever be built," Ensign said.

Congress allocated just under $386.5 million this week for the Yucca Mountain project in fiscal 2008, $108 million less than President Bush sought.

The repository, opposed by Nevada officials including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been slowed by court fights and a judicial order for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise project radiation safety standards.

Located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, it has been designed to entomb at least 77,000 tons of the nation's most radioactive waste in tunnels 1,000 feet below ground.

However the DOE recently proposed doubling the size to almost 150,000 tons, citing ongoing production of waste at nuclear power plants around the country.