Three different House committees have endorsed a resolution by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, to support a proposed 99-year international ban on commercial mining in Antarctica.
Owens' staff expects the measure to come for a vote before the full House next Tuesday - the last scheduled day of a meeting in Madrid where the ban is being discussed by countries that signed the Antarctic Treaty 30 years ago."There has been some encouraging movement in that meeting, and we might actually have a ban before the House votes on the resolution," said Scott Kearin, Owens' administrative assistant.
Environmental groups support the ban, saying it is needed to protect Antarctica's fragile ecosystem. But the mining industry wants to keep the possibility of at least exploratory mining open to search for deposits of strategic materials.
The Bush administration has opposed such bans, saying other negotiated means to closely monitor and control mining would better protect the Antarctic.
Owens was forced to work his resolution through three different committees - Interior, Foreign Affairs and Merchant Marine - because of overlapping jurisdiction. The final approval came in the Interior Committee Wednesday on a 29-10 vote, Kearin said.
Owens has also been pushing other legislation calling for the Antarctic to be deemed, in essence, a giant wilderness area to be protected in its natural state for international scientific research.