Signals CV.com: House UPDATE: House Passes Bill to Block CEMEX Mine

December 12, 2014

Posted: December 11, 2014 9:07 a.m.
Updated: December 11, 2014 7:08 p.m.
UPDATE: House passes bill to block Cemex mine

A bill aimed at blocking development of the proposed Cemex sand and gravel mine in Canyon Country passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday, bringing renewed hope to legislators and Santa Clarita city officials who have long sought to resolve the years-long mine matter.

“This tremendous achievement is the result of more than two decades of tireless work to develop a practicable solution that would take the Soledad Canyon Mine out of commission and lift this burden off of the backs of my constituents,” said the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, in a statement Thursday.

McKeon introduced his latest bill, the Soledad Canyon Settlement Act, on Nov. 19.

The bill’s passage comes as McKeon nears the finish line of his 22-year run as the Santa Clarita Valley’s representative in Congress.

McKeon said he has introduced eight bills aimed at blocking development of the mine, “each of which took a different approach to dealing with the mine as new issues arose.”

“This day has been a long time coming, and I could not be more grateful to everyone who has devoted their time and energy to get the Soledad Canyon Settlement Act over the finish line,” McKeon said.

On Thursday, McKeon extended his thanks to Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., for their help in getting the bill put to a vote.

“They know I’ve been working on this for a long, long time — they wanted to do what they could to help me and they knew it was important to me and my district,” McKeon told The Signal in an interview Thursday. “So they were able to help me get it to the floor.”

Bipartisanship

The matter now goes to the U.S. Senate, where Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has also introduced legislation aimed at resolving the Cemex mine issue. Boxer introduced her latest Cemex bill on Nov. 18.

“It could all be done if she’ll do it over there in the Senate,” McKeon said of Boxer. “I just hope with all my heart it gets done because that would be great. I would feel like I’m not leaving anything unfinished.”

McKeon added his gratitude to both Boxer and Congressman Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, for “reaching across the aisle to achieve such a resounding and bipartisan victory.”

The current congressional session is drawing rapidly to a close, threatening to halt the dramatic last-minute progress short of the finish line. As of Thursday, Boxer was working with her Senate colleagues to get support for the measure.

“The momentum has shifted in our favor, but we’re not there yet,” Boxer said.

Sherman spoke in favor of the legislation on the floor of the House and said Thursday he has been a regular supporter of legislative solutions to the mine issue, partly because of the effects the mine could have on traffic and partly because “those of us in the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita Valley are good neighbors.”

But he said even he was caught a bit off guard by how quickly the bill was able to come up for a vote in the House.

“I thought until this morning that this bill was a 2015 bill, and in fact I’d already called (Congressman-elect) Steve Knight and told him I was looking forward to working with him on this,” Sherman said Thursday.

Knight was elected in November to take over for McKeon as the Santa Clarita Valley’s representative in Congress.

Sherman pointed out the bill came to the House floor on what could be McKeon’s last legislative day and praised its bipartisan support.

“This is the way government is supposed to work,” he said. “I mean, there aren’t too many folks here in Washington with a more liberal reputation than Barbara Boxer or a more conservative reputation than ‘Buck’ McKeon, and yet they have identical legislation introduced in both of their houses.”

Hastings also spoke in favor of the bill Thursday.

“Mr. McKeon has been a tireless advocate on behalf of his local communities,” said the Washington state Republican, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources. “He has demonstrated patience and diligence in pursuing a workable solution that Congress can successfully act upon.”

Hastings also expressed hope that the legislation would move through the Senate and said McKeon should be commended for his work on the matter.

“This would be kind of the capstone on the career that he has had,” Hastings said.

“With the interest that Sen. Boxer has shown on this issue, I hope that she can move this legislation through the Senate,” he added.

It appeared last week that the congressional session would end before McKeon’s bill could gain traction, particularly after it was not included in the text of the latest National Defense Authorization Act, which included language related to dozens of public land bills.

McKeon, though, said Thursday the NDAA “has never been the proper legislative vehicle to attach the Soledad Canyon mine legislation to.”

The bill was brought to the floor of the House Thursday as a stand-alone measure and was approved by voice vote.

Though the prospects of the bill in the Senate are unclear, Sherman said one thing is certain: “We have never been this close.”

Long effort

The city of Santa Clarita has been battling the Cemex mine for about 15 years.

Reached by phone Thursday, City Councilwoman Laurene Weste called the latest development in the long-running Cemex saga “an answer to our prayers.”

“It strongly represents the nature of who we are as a country,” Weste said. “When things are worked on together for the greater good, they can get done. It just takes time.”

City officials have long said the mine would pollute Santa Clarita Valley air and choke Highway 14 with gravel trucks.

“It’s the greatest blessing for this community to have that concluded on the House side and to move ahead,” Weste said. “It impacts so many parts of our daily lives and how we live in this valley.

“I am extremely proud that the congressman got support on both sides of the aisle,” Weste added.

City Councilman Bob Kellar said Thursday, “In my 15 years on the City Council, this is by far the best day.”

“Enough cannot be said for the huge effort put forth by so many to bring us to this point,” Kellar said. “We are particularly appreciative of our congressman, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, for his hard work over the years.

“It is so nice that his bill was successful while he was still in office,”

Bills

The bills from Boxer and McKeon would direct the Bureau of Land Management to cancel mining contracts held by Cemex, a multi-national mining firm.

Those contracts, which were awarded to Cemex in 1990, allow the firm to extract 56 million tons of sand and gravel from hundreds of acres near the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Shadow Pines Boulevard in Canyon Country.

The bills would also prohibit future mining on the site.

The BLM would then be required to sell federal land near Victorville and use the proceeds from the sale to compensate Cemex for its contracts.

A new wrinkle in the Cemex legislation this time around is that Boxer’s bill was worded in such a way that it would receive a “zero score,” meaning it will not cost the government anything.

McKeon’s bill, which is a companion to Boxer’s, is worded the same way.

Both the city of Santa Clarita and Cemex have indicated support for the arrangement, while the BLM has resisted the proposal.

“Cemex fully supports this legislation and is optimistic of its passage in the Senate,” Cemex spokeswoman Sara Engdahl said Thursday. “We will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the city of Santa Clarita as we move closer to a resolution.”

Weste also praised Cemex for working with the city to resolve the matter.

“Cemex has been our partner and has been working hand-in-hand with us,” she said. “They are to be commended for being part of the solution here.”

Lmoney@signalscv.com
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Comments

JoJoinscv: Posted: December 11, 2014 5:24 p.m.

I am OVER THE MOON with this news! Thank you, thank you, thank you to ALL, especially Buck McKeon, who have stuck with this issue for so many years. I understand that it is not over until the fat lady sings, however, this fat lady is practicing her scales in anticipation of a big big sing in the very near future!
p.s. Thank God the good citizens of SCV voted to incorporate. As a citizen of the incorporated SCV I am sure that this would not have happened without city hood. Happy Birthday 12/18 to the City of Santa Clarita.

ChrisBall: Posted: December 11, 2014 7:21 p.m.

My son has tried for a year to enlist in the NAVY. Unbelievable red tape. There is still some unfinished business for the Congressmen.

DMeyer: Posted: December 11, 2014 10:40 p.m.

Good job Buck! Now let’s hope the Senate can push it through.

counciled: Posted: December 12, 2014 6:10 a.m.

There still is about a 60% chance this goes through.
Still a lot of hurdles that must be met. I hope all will succeed.

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr5742

Reallywhocares: Posted: December 12, 2014 9:25 a.m.

Good news for all involved…thank you Buck and to those on the other side of the aisle who realized this would have been catastrophic for the valley and California in general…lets keep the hope alive the Senate will agree…

CoastalSage: Posted: December 12, 2014 12:08 p.m.

Part 2 of 3

For the ensuing 10 years, we’ve watched Council Members Kellar and Weste repeatedly kiss Buck’s ash, to no avail, trying to get a bill passed to stop the Cemex mine, because it will fill Santa Clarita’s air with fine dust exacerbating the city’s already very high rate of childhood asthma, and because the trucks from the mine will clog the 14 Freeway making commutes impossible. The City has spent millions of taxpayer dollars trying to stop this mine.

For 10 years, Congessman Buck has been unenthusiastic, to say the least. At one point in the 15 months, while being interviewed by Erin Burnett on CNN, Buck told her that the Presidents of the nation’s defense contractors are his real constituents, and that he had to get them paid as his first priority. (Thanks Buck.)

Every California Senator and Congressperson with even an inch of territory in the Santa Clarita Valley tried to get a stop-the-Cemex-mine bill through Congress, but Buck, his buddies, and his baloney always stood in the way.

In the meantime, BLM proposed to lease its land to allow the digging of the largest gravel pit mine in the United States. That land was located along the 15 Freeway, just as you enter the south end of the Las Vegas Valley. Cemex was to be the lessee and mine operator. That Cemex mine would have been situated between 2 wealthy Republican neighborhoods, Anthem and Southern Highlands. With little muss or fuss, Republican Senator Dean Heller, Republican Congressman Joe Heck, Democrat Senator Harry Reid and Democrat Congresswoman Dina Titus killed that mine, lickety-split, by using their influence within the BLM. That experience told me one key thing: Despite Buck’s status as a member of the Republican Leadership of the House, he simply couldn’t be bothered to use his juice to kill Santa Clarita’s Cemex mine.

Think about what has happened in the 10 years Buck was supposedly working to stop the Cemex Mine. Those kids in Anti-Mine T Shirts, who rode the bus down to the County Hall in 2002 grew up. One of the kids ended up working for Senator Harry Reid, in his Capitol office, in Spring 2014. That same kid had done election campaign work for Mayor Laurene Weste, and still had fond feelings for her. So he talked to his bosses in the Senate Majority Leader’s office and asked what he could do to help get Sen. Boxer’s bill passed to stop Santa Clarita’s Cemex Mine. After some sniffing around, his bosses said “Go talk to Congressman McKeon”. The senior staff told the kid that if the bill got to the Majority Leader’s office and passed, the kid could be the one to hand carry it over to the clerk of the House. So off the kid went, in person, slumming it on the House side of the Hill.

CoastalSage: Posted: December 12, 2014 12:08 p.m.

Part 1 of 3

Back in the Fall of 2002, the City of Santa Clarita paid for multitude buses of local residents to go down to the Los Angeles City Hall to attend a full blown “public hearing” to protest the L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ potential approval of County permits for the Cemex mine. Among the people on that bus were a whole bunch of school kids, including mine, in their city-printed anti-Cemex mine T Shirts.

I mention the fact that it was a “public hearing” because to the lawyers in the audience, it looked like a little plot was hatched beforehand. The attorney for Cemex began to speak, and what he said insulted Supervisor Mike Antonovich. So Super Mike made a motion to deny the County permits before Cemex got its full due process hearing, and the permits were summarily voted down. While the crowd from Santa Clarita wildly applauded, those of us who know how the game is played knew the game had been thrown, just like White Sox threw the World Series.

Around the same time, Buck’s minion, now one of Santa Clarita’s elected officials, gave an interview to The Signal, in a story edited by Leon Worden, essentially telling Santa Clarita to drop dead on the Cemex mine issue, because “the mining industry doesn’t want to set a precedent against mining of Federal land in urban areas”. Harkening back to a past President’s comment to New York City when it was in financial trouble “Buck to City: Drop Dead”.

Cemex immediately sued the County, and despite the City paying tens of thousands of dollars for excellent legal work, the County Counsel’s office “took a dive” and sided with Cemex in the lawsuit. The Federal judge, known to be a first class jerk on other matters, refused to require any County compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, which was what the City had been prepared to talk about at the Board of Supervisors and in the court. So Cemex got its County permits. By the time the appeals were done it was 2004. Santa Clarita’s City Council and the area’s residents politely pleaded with Congressman Buck McKeon to get a bill passed to stop the Cemex Mine.

CoastalSage: Posted: December 12, 2014 12:09 p.m.

Part 3 of 3

The kid from Santa Clarita tried to make an appointment to talk to Rep. McKeon personally and was blown off. Rep. McKeon’s staff also blew off the kid, telling him the bill was not a priority. What the idiots who work for Rep. McKeon apparently didn’t realize was that NOTHING gets scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate unless Senator Reid and his Chief of Staff want a floor vote on the bill…and that they had an “in” at that office, if they wanted to use it.

The House is the place where spending legislation originates. As a result, the most-recently-passed-and-signed 2014 Defense Department spending bill has Buck’s name on it, literally and figuratively. Buck claimed, and his staff member Morris Thomas still claims, that the text of the Cemex Bill could not be put into 2014 Buck Swan Song Defense Spending Bill. Yet, Senator Reid got a whole Christmas Tree of goodies from the BLM for Nevada stuffed into that Buck Swan Song Defense Spending Bill. Just read these articles listing those goodies:

http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/tule-springs-fossil-beds-bill-clears-house

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2014/dec/05/titus-steering-lands-bills-through-congress-reid-p/

So Sen. Harry Reid got a ton of goodies in the Buck Swan Song Defense Spending Bill and Buck got squat for Santa Clarita, in terms of the Cemex Bill.

That list of goodies Sen. Reid got from BLM proves Buck is full of a nasty word for disingenuous.

And now our dear Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar have had to prostrate themselves again, praising Buck because H.R. 5742 was passed by the House, probably too late.

However, the House bill’s equivalent, carried by Sen. Barbara Boxer, has to be SCHEDULED for a floor vote in the Senate by none other than Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Chief of Staff aka Darth Vader 2.0. Santa Clarita had a down field receiver planted in that office earlier this year, but Buck’s staff simply blew him off and insulted that Senate office in the process.

We all better pray Sen. Reid and Darth 2.0 are in a good mood, and that Sen. Boxer can sufficiently bat her pretty eye lashes at those two gentlemen, to get a vote in the Senate on the substance of the Cemex Bill this calendar year.

However, if the Senate is too busy to take care of voting on the substance of the Cemex Bill this year, it will be the fault of Buck and his staff, and no one else. I am 99% positive that Buck has set up this scenario as a means of making sure the Cemex Bill doesn’t pass and that Buck can “blame the Democrats”.

However “the kid from Santa Clarita” WILL be able to find out whether this latest Cemex Bill maneuver is just more b.s. from the Buckaroo.

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