Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah - who rankled some by calling for 5.4 million acres of Utah wilderness - persuaded the House Tuesday to call for a mining ban and wilderness protection for an entire continent: Antarctica.
The House passed by voice vote an Owens resolution supporting a 99-year ban on Antarctic mining, and granting Antarctica special status as a "world park" dedicated to wilderness protection, international cooperation and scientific research.The vote came on the last day of a meeting in Madrid, Spain, to discuss such a mining ban among countries that signed the Antarctic Treaty 30 years ago.
"This vote could hardly be timed any better," Owens told the House. He said because of pressure from the resolution and other countries, the international meeting was expected to approve a 50-year ban on mining - unless all countries agree to end it sooner.
That wasn't as much as his resolution called for, but Owens said it represented a significant shift by many nations - including the United States.
It had long officially opposed any mining ban, saying it wouldn't really stop mining if some important minerals were found. It said a wiser approach would be simply to closely regulate mining to ensure it does not harm the environment.
Owens told the Deseret News that the meeting in Madrid "was just waiting for our vote here before they approved the 50-year ban."
He added, "That's a truly remarkable shift in position."
The only minor problem the resolution faced in the House was worry by some that wilderness language in the resolution might somehow prevent delivery of oil and other materials to scientific camps in the Antarctic.
Owens assured them that the bill was not intended to stop such shipments, that the bill was intended to help further scientific research and supplying the camps was necessary for that. The bill then passed on a simple voice vote, with no one voicing any opposition.
The resolution also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty - which went into force on June 21, 1961.