Two of President Clinton’s biggest environmental coups - stopping a gold mine near Yellowstone National Park and saving a California redwood forest - are in danger of failing because of a budget fight in Congress.
In separate and lengthy negotiations last year, the White House persuaded developers to abandon the proposed projects in return for other government land or cash.
But with Congress intent on squeezing the budget, and with conservative Republicans viewing federal land purchases as attacks on property rights, the administration has not been able to get the money needed to close the deals.
The White House needs about $65 million to pay a Canadian mining company to abandon the New World Mine, outside Yellowstone in Montana.
It needs $250 million to get financier Charles Hurwitz to stop plans to cut ancient redwood trees on 7,500 acres of private land in the Headwaters Forest near Arcata, Calif.
“We remain completely committed to ensuring the protection of Yellowstone and this last stand of ancient redwoods,” Kathleen McGinty, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an interview late Tuesday.
She said GOP congressional leaders promised to provide the money as part of a budget deal and “we have every expectation the leadership will remain faithful to that agreement.”
Democrats will try to get the money approved when an Interior Department spending bill comes up for a vote in the House this week, possibly as early as Wednesday.
But congressional and administration officials say the prospects appear better when the legislation goes to the Senate.
While the White House expects the money eventually to be approved, one senior Interior Department official complained that Congress seems bent on “pulling the rug out from under the deals.”
The White House thought it had a deal a few weeks ago when a budget agreement with GOP leaders included $700 million for land purchases.
But the House Appropriations Committee refused to approve the money.
If the money isn’t approved, says Sue Gunn, a lobbyist for the Wilderness Society, “the administration is in trouble again” on two of its biggest environmental successes. “This is going to be a battle to the end.”