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11/21/05 Gwich'in Steering CommitteeUpdate

Budget Reconciliation Bill Passes U.S. House of Reps by 2 Votes

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget reconciliation bill by a razor-thin 217-215 margin in the early morning hours of Friday November 18, 2005.

Thanks to all who called with concerns about Iizhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Goodlit, the Sacred Place Where Life Begins, and to a principled stand by representatives on both sides of the aisle, the House was forced last week to strip a provision from the budget bill that would have opened the 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain of America's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to sprawling oil development. The success of this bipartisan effort clearly demonstrates that the House is a dead-end for the drilling lobby's back-door plan to drill the Arctic Refuge.

A strong group of centrist Republican members have made it clear that they will oppose the bill if it includes drilling provisions, and Democrats have been unanimously opposed to the bill. It is anyone's guess what (if anything) will emerge out of the closed-door conference, but it is clear that any bill that includes Arctic Refuge drilling will run into a brick wall.

horizontal rule

Still A Bad Bill

Although the House bill does not include provisions to drill the Arctic Refuge, it does contain a provision that could lead to the sale of millions of acres of public lands.

The provision would allow the sale of existing and future mining claims on public lands, National Forest lands, and lands in our National Parks, even if the purchaser never intends to mine the claims. A conservative estimate of the provision's reach is some 4.5 million acres of public lands, including more than 600 "unpatented" mining claims in National Park units. Claimants would not even have to prove that their claims contain mineral deposits before they can purchase the rights to the land.

It is wrong to use the reconciliation bill to force through a provision that could lead to the privatization of millions of acres of public lands.

What's Next

Both houses of Congress are scheduled to recess for Thanksgiving. The House will return on December 6th and the Senate on December 12th. This means that the heavy work of resolving the remaining appropriations conferences will not be taken up until the Senate is back the week of December 12th.

Given the dramatic differences between the two versions, and the controversial nature of many of the provisions, the conference negotiations could last for weeks, if not months. We will continue to alert you to how you can help us remove these controversial provisions and protect the Arctic Refuge from the final reconciliation package.

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