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WESTERNERS GEARING UP FOR ANOTHER FILIBUSTER

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Western senators are rarin' for another big filibuster - this time against mining reform pushed by eastern Democrats and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

"Westerners are not happy. These reforms are typical of the war on the West that the Clinton administration is waging," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.Mining reform could place new taxes on hardrock mining of 8 percent or more, which critics say could close many mines or chase companies away to South America or Africa. Reforms would also make it tougher for companies to buy mining land and would require spending more to hold claims.

So many Westerners are already planning to talk the proposals to death, much like they did successfully last year to block writing higher grazing fees and other land reforms into law.

That led Babbitt to modify and soften many of those proposals, which he is trying to implement now through administrative rules.

But Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said it may be a little too early to talk about filibustering. He still hopes a House-Senate conference can reach reasonable alternatives.

He said he talks often with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., who he said is trying to reach a fair compromise in the committee.

"He is anxious to work something out that will be acceptable to Western senators. Whether that will translate into something acceptable, I don't know," Bennett said.

Meanwhile, Bennett said Sen. Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo., served notice to the conference that unless something passes that is approved by Westerners, he will lead a filibuster against it.

"So Johnston wants to move the bill fast, so he can have time to break a filibuster if he has to," Bennett said. "He's afraid that if the conference waits too long to pass a bill, there won't be enough time in the session to overcome a filibuster."

Hatch said Westerners are furious about many of the tougher proposals from members such as Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., who wants much higher taxes on mining. "If those proposals become law, it would decimate mining in Utah."

Hatch added, "Many of these people think the federal government is just giving away its minerals. They don't realize that it costs millions to develop a mine. And if a mine is lucky enough to produce, it pays taxes on the money it makes and the wages it gives to workers."