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Pro-mining budget bill awaits President Obama’s signature

Wall Street, mining, energy and coal are among the parties who will benefit from a sweeping spending package approved by the U.S. Senate Saturday night.

On a 56-40 vote late Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending package which will fund most of the federal government until September 2015. The measure now awaits the president’s signature.

The White House had strongly objected to the policy rider that relaxed banking regulations from the Dodd-Frank law. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who had unsuccessfully tried to block a provision that allows for future bailouts of financial institutions that engage in derivatives trading, declared, “Congress proved tonight that if you’re a Wall Street bank, Washington works great for you.”

Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, said Congress should not be handing out Christmas presents “to megabanks and Wall Street.”

The Senate turmoil and fighting reaped some benefits for mining as a rider imposing a one-year ban on new Endangered Species Act protection for the sage grouse survived in the “omnibus bill”. The rider was introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, a former president of the Nevada Mining Association.

Nevertheless, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, remarked last week that “one year is not enough to find out the viability of the efficacy of programs that are out there.”

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, which manage most of the sage grouse habitat, will continue to revise 100 land-use plans covering 67 million acres in 11 western states to protect and restore sage grouse habitat, which is generally sage brush habitat. The omnibus spending bill allocates $15 million to the BLM to support state conservation plans that promote sustainable sage-grouse populations “through conservation of sensitive habitat and to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing designation of the species.”

The BLM is already deferring oil and gas leasing on millions of acres of public lands.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat and a geologist, has just filed a notice of intent to sue U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel M. Ashe, over the federal listing of the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species.

Another rider prevents the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. from restricting their funding for power plants that don’t reduce carbon emissions, such as coal-fired power plants.

The rider also blocks the Army Corps of Engineers from moving forward on any rules that would redefine fill material under the Clean Water Act, which Republicans charge would hurt coal mining operations.

Also surviving in the appropriations bill is a policy rider that would prohibit the Corps of Engineers from moving ahead on their “Waters of the U.S.” proposed rule that was released for comment by the Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April.

A number of groups including the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities raised concerns about the new rules which would have expanded the range of water that fall under federal jurisdiction. The agencies would like to expand the designation of “waters of the U.S” under to include navigable waters, interstate waters, territorial waters, tributaries (ditches), wetlands, and “other waters.” They also want to redefines or includes new definitions for key terms—adjacency, riparian area, and flood plain—that could be used by EPA and the Corps to claim additional waters as jurisdictional including those near mining projects.

The appropriations legislation also reduces funds for the Environmental Protection Agency by $60 million.

After casting more than 24 procedural votes including the final vote, Senate Democrats wheeled a piano into a spare room and began to sing Christmas carols, including “I’ll be home for Christmas.’”

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