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Passing the buck on mine issue

Posted: June 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The truce is over.

We learned of it May 31, when CEMEX informed the city of Santa Clarita that the multinational mining giant would begin exploring all its options for Soledad Canyon. Those options include the long-dreaded development of a 56-million-ton megamine that will produce a steady stream of sand and gravel trucks on our roads and freeways, and so severely pollute our air as to threaten our way of life in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Friday night football? Saturday afternoon soccer games? Weekend family hikes?

Sorry. Not with the air quality we'll have. Yes, it's that bad. We may have to rethink whether this valley will even be livable enough to accommodate outdoor sports. Education insiders are already talking about the added expense of bringing activities indoors.

Is the battle lost? There's still a possibility of an 11th-hour victory, and if ever there was a time to develop a sense of urgency on the issue, this is it.

Safe Action for the Environment Inc., a nonprofit organization formed to battle the mine, has not given up. You can join our effort by visiting our website,, and signing our petition and/or sending legislators a letter of support for Sen. Barbara Boxer's S. 759, which would stop the mine. There is still hope!

Who's to blame?

Certainly the issue is far too complex - and has been developing for far too long - to lay 100 percent of the blame at the feet of one individual if the mine is developed. However, there is one individual who is uniquely positioned to take action - someone who, as a result of his position in our political system, can do something to help stop this project.

He's Howard "Buck" McKeon, our current congressman.

When things have been going well, Buck has been only too happy to take credit. In years past, when Buck introduced bills to stop CEMEX, it would only later become evident that these were token efforts at best, each expiring without so much as a legislative whimper - or even a single hearing. And, we all fell into the trap of premature adulation, thanking Buck before he'd actually accomplished anything.

Last month, when he started to feel community heat over his inaction on the CEMEX issue, Buck and his staff put out a slick color mailer called, "An Important CEMEX Mine Update." In it, he took credit for having "Negotiated a truce between CEMEX and the city to delay the mine until we can solve this issue."

"Negotiated?" No.

"Endorsed?" Yes.

Regardless, Buck's mailer fails to mention that, when the truce yielded a legislative solution in the form of S. 759 - authored not by the congressman but by Boxer - he wouldn't lift a finger to help pass it. Instead, the congressman claimed it would violate Republican House rules against earmarks. Actually, Buck's mailer doesn't even mention S. 759.

Despite what the congressman and his aides say, S. 759 is not an earmark. It would have zero impact on the federal budget, and would merely compensate CEMEX for the cancellation of its Soledad Canyon mining contracts with the Bureau of Land Management by selling off property that is already on the BLM's "disposal list."

Buck, as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is an influential member of Congress, and he should be capable of approaching his colleagues and saying, "I need this. It's important to my district."

Those kinds of conversations happen on a daily basis among legislators. Yet, Buck seems to believe there's not a thing he can do to support Boxer's bill.

Then, when the news came out that CEMEX had declined to extend its truce with Santa Clarita past May 31, Buck went from seeking 100 percent of the credit for things going well to assuming zero percent of the responsibility for things going badly. The congressman was quoted recently as saying, "They can't just pass it all off to me."

Buck, you told CEMEX and Santa Clarita to find a legislative solution. They found one. Boxer - a Democrat - sponsored S. 759 in the Senate. You chose not to support Boxer's bill, declining to introduce a companion bill in the House, suggesting it would represent an "earmark." That decision has left your hometown constituents wondering why you won't devote anything other than meaningless lip service to help solve this horrific problem. Why not sit down with the city and CEMEX to find a viable alternative that will compensate CEMEX for the fair market value of the mining contracts and, after 20 years, bring an end to the Soledad Canyon sand and gravel mine?

When our children can no longer play outside due to the dust and pollution; when athletic programs are cut or dropped; when medically vulnerable senior citizens are restricted to indoor activities, all of us, parents, children and seniors alike, will be left to wonder:

Why won't you help us, Buck?


Andrew Fried is the president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc.




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