UPDATE: The “Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015” passed in the House of Representatives Thursday afternoon with overwhelming bipartisan support.
But language from another McKeon bill to block the planned Cemex gravel mining project in Soledad Canyon was not included in it – even though the omnibus defense spending bill included dozens of other public lands and energy bills.
All told, the NDAA puts 250,000 acres under “wildnerness,” saves 400,000 acres of public land from development, and creates or expands 15 national parks.
[KHTS] – City officials and an incoming congressman took additional steps Thursday to try to convince Congress to kill a massive gravel mining project before the current legislative session ends.
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste said she was sending an email Thursday to Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, urging him to amend his latest Cemex bill into the National Defense Authorization Act.
Meanwhile, Congressman-elect Steve Knight also contacted House Majority Leader Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to discuss what many consider a last-ditch effort. There had not yet been a vote on the NDAA as of early Thursday afternoon.
Incoming U.S. Rep. Steve Knight
Knight, who’s set to take McKeon’s seat in January, expressed concern about the bill’s future, noting the NDAA, an omnibus bill that included about 60 public land use and energy bills, was the best chance to find a legislative solution for Cemex and the Santa Clarita Valley.
When asked why Wednesday night why the legislation was left out of the package, McKeon said he was unaware of the bipartisan effort to include the legislation in the NDAA.
Knight questioned that claim Thursday afternoon.
“I can’t believe that the committee chairman didn’t know about this bill package,” Knight said. “That’s what stresses me now — we had an opportunity to put this to rest once and for all .”
Knight also said he was aware of what’s known as a “manager’s amendment,” which would allow McKeon, as the chairman for the House Committee of the bill’s origin — the House Armed Services – to add the Cemex language to the legislation.
McKeon’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
However, there’s certainly precedent for such a move, according to city officials.
Soledad Canyon mining area | Photo: SAFE Action for the Environment
With Elsmere Canyon, Congressman McKeon, successfully inserted language into an omnibus bill package that aided the city in its effort to fight a large landfill from area that’s now part of the city’s greenbelt.
Knight said he would like to be optimistic and act on the legislative effort to keep the mine out of the Santa Clarita Valley as soon as he could once he takes office, but he’s worried it might be too late.
Sen. Knight, R-Palmdale, said information given to him indicated Cemex is looking to satisfy its mining rights if no solution is found this legislative session. Councilman Bob Kellar made a similar claim in front of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, during testimony last year for a past iteration of the bill.
Santa Clarita officials have lobbied for years to stop a sand and gravel mine from moving into Soledad Canyon, working cooperatively with Cemex for the last seven years, because Cemex has mineral rights to land owned by the city.
Cemex did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Weste praised the efforts Thursday of Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., for their work and support in the legislation. She was hopeful that Cemex would continue to be a partner in the effort to satisfy their contracts.
The city estimates its spent in excess of $10 million lobbying to stop the mine from going into land the city purchased 10 years ago.
The legislation that was authored by Sen. Barbara Boxer last month would compensate Cemex, which owns two 10-year contracts to mine the Santa Clarita Valley, with lands in Victorville.
Boxer’s bill obtained a zero score — meaning there is no cost to the federal government – when she introduced it mid-November. The cost concern was cited as a past obstacle to the bill’s passage, which has garnered bipartisan support.
City officials were surprised to Wednesday night, before a vote scheduled for Thursday, about the Cemex bill being left out of the omnibus bill package.
Councilman Bob Kellar, who discussed the situation with McKeon on Wednesday evening, has indicated the bill’s passage is unlikely as a stand-alone piece of legislation.
McKeon and Cemex did not immediately respond to a request for comment.