Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah - who critics claim wants to create too much wilderness in Utah - came a step closer Monday to banning mining on the entire continent of Antarctica.
The House passed his bill 398-11 to urge the Bush administration to melt away its objections to a mining ban for Antarctica. One of the few members who opposed it was Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah - who opposes Owens on most environmental issues.Owens' bill calls for the United States to reject a proposed treaty that would allow - but put tight rules - on Antarctic mineral development. Owens bill calls for an outright ban on such mining and prospecting, as has been proposed by Australia and France.
In a recent hearing, the State Department opposed the Owens bill, saying the sort of ban Owens proposes could easily be dissolved by the world's nations if valuable minerals in the Antarctic are found. The State Department said the treaty Owens wants to dump would put tight restrictions on any development of minerals if found.
Owens said it is ironic that the administration seeks to protect the Antarctic's environment from mining by pushing a treaty that allows it.
Owens told the House Monday, "I do not believe we need to explore Antarctica for minerals. I do not believe we need its oil, if indeed there is any. We certainly do not need its coal, the only mineral clearly in abundance.
"The highest value for that frozen continent lies in its preservation, left in its natural state as much as possible in this interconnected world, as a reservoir of life and a laboratory for science."
He said that is essential for study of such trends as global warming and ozone depletion, and said the Antarctic is an environmental linchpin for the world's environment that should be left alone.
The resolution - which merely expresses the "sense of Congress," and is not binding on the Bush administration - now goes to the Senate.
Owens is also pushing another bill that would essentially seek to protect Antarctica as a giant wilderness, which has been backed by such people as oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.