Bowing to pressure from western senators, the Clinton Administration has backed away from a promise to exact fair-market prices from those who use public lands for mining, logging and grazing. As SI's Robert H. Boyle reports, the White House's retreat has dashed hopes for an early end to the environmental and economic outrages associated with these lands.
Mining. The 1872 Mining Law is a shameful anachronism that allows anybody who stakes a claim on public land to tie up the mineral rights indefinitely by paying only $100 a year. Claim holders can mine gold, silver and other valuable minerals without paying royalties to the government, and there is no requirement that they fully repair the environmental damage they cause, even though the hard-rock mining industry generates two billion tons of solid waste a year, more than all other U.S. industries and all U.S. cities combined. Claim holders can also "patent" (purchase) title to the land for $5 an acre, sometimes even less. "Our latest survey has identified 25 major mines on public land that are being patented with a total gross mineral value of more than $86 billion," says Philip Hocker, co-founder, with former interior secretary Stewart Udall, of the Mineral Policy Center in Washington, D.C. A Canadian company, American Barrick Resources, which operates the Goldstrike Mine on public land in Nevada, extracted 1.1 million ounces of gold last year and sold it for an average of $422 an ounce, yet not a cent in royalties went to deficit-ridden Uncle Sam. Barrick is now applying for patents to 1,793 acres at Goldstrike that would enable the company to pay $8,965 to the Treasury for a resource with a gross value that could reach $10 billion.
Logging. The U.S. Forest Service loses $400 million a year in below-cost sales of trees from national forests. "The cost of putting in roads, site preparation and processing exceeds what the government receives back," says Brent Blackwelder, vice-president for policy of Friends of the Earth. "Giveaway is too kind a word. You've not just lost the trees; you've also destroyed the prospects for sustainable forestry, fisheries and recreational pursuits." The Forest Service is selling 500-year-old Sitka spruces from Alaska's Tongass National Forest, one of the world's last old-growth temperate rain forests, for $2 each to a Japanese-owned mill, which ships the pulp to the Far East, where it's used in synthetic clothing. The trees could fetch as much as $300 apiece on the open market.
Grazing. For $1.86 a month, a rancher can graze one cow and a calf on public land. Private landholders charge up to five times as much. This huge governmental subsidy is even less defensible when one takes into account grazing's environmental toll. The Federal Policy and Land Management Act, signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, called for the Bureau of Land Management to ensure that grazing doesn't degrade the land, but the Reagan and Bush administrations didn't enforce the law. As a result, says Johanna Wald, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, "plant diversity and vegetation production diminished, erosion increased, and riparian damage became extensive." As with public-land management generally, Washington's largesse benefits few: Ranchers holding bureau grazing permits produce no more than 4% of the nation's beef. "The power of these ranchers comes not from their numbers but from their hold on the imagination," says Wald. "It's the John Wayne syndrome. But isn't it ironic that these 'independent and strong' westerners are totally dependent on public handouts?"
Dodgers beat giants! headlined the New York Post. Indeed, last week's courtroom victory by the Brooklyn Dodger Sports Bar and Restaurant had a David-smites-Goliath ring to it. Stocked with memorabilia of the beloved team that owner Walter O'Malley rudely transplanted to California following the 1957 season, the five-year-old saloon, situated in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, had been sued for trademark infringement by the big-bucks Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball Properties Inc., which wanted the establishment to change its name (SCORECARD, June 1, 1992).
Forget it, said New York federal judge Constance Baker Motley. Ruling that the bar's name was just fine, Motley called the Brooklyn Dodgers "a non-transportable cultural institution separate from the ' Los Angeles Dodgers.' " Motley rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the bar traded on the good will of the L.A. club, noting, "Many Brooklynites despise the Los Angeles Dodgers."
Calbert Cheaney was roundly criticized in the Los Angeles media last week for failing to show up in L.A. to receive the John R. Wooden Award as college basketball's top player. Barbs were also directed at Bobby Knight, Cheaney's coach at Indiana, who had told award organizers that he needed to know for sure whether Cheaney was going to win; only then would Cheaney commit to attend. The organizers replied that they couldn't tell him because they weren't privy to the voting results themselves. Noting that most sportwriters viewed Cheaney as the obvious winner, Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre wrote, "And because Knight considers, and calls, sportswriters, idiots, it seems logical that if idiots could figure out Cheaney's chances, why couldn't a genius such as Knight?"