If you do not have the right permits, you cannot mine. Sometimes permits are called licenses. Permits or licenses are those small pieces of paper from some regulatory authority that permit you to do something. We have all, at one time or another, had to get a small piece off paper (or laminated plastic) to add a room to the house, install a new bathroom, drive a car, run a business, or call ourselves professionals.

Some permits necessary to mining are trivial; for example, get a permit to clear the timber to drill an exploratory borehole. Some permits necessary to mining are difficult and complex; for example, get a permit to discharge contaminated water (the US NPDES permit).

The universe of permits that the average mine needs to get is vast. In most instance the suite of permits you need is location, i.e., jurisdiction, specific.

The most basic permit in most jurisdictions is the Mining Permit, that obviously permits you to mine. A quick Google search of the keywords “state X, mining, permit” readily brings up links to the source of the Mining Permit in your area.

Generally the Mining Permit is concerned primarily with you reclamation plans. No jurisdiction wants to be left with an un-reclaimed mine site. So they generally try to prevent this happening by demanding that you have a Mining Permit and that you post a bond to clean up once you finish mining. Maybe such permits should more correctly be called permits to proceed to reclamation, or even just reclamation permits.

Having a Mining Permit is generally no guarantee that you can actually proceed to mine. In the United States, by far the most “significant” permits you need are those that relate to air emissions and water emissions. Depending on the specifics of your site and its location you will probably need a 404 permit, an NPDES permit, and a Title V Air Quality permit. These permits come from federal agencies. You may need to get equivalent state permits in addition or as an alternative, depending on state laws.

Never confuse the environmental impact assessment process with permitting. They are not the same thing. Having successfully met federal and/or state and/or local laws and regulations relating to undertaking an environmental impact assessment of your mine, means nothing as far as the permitting process is concerned. It is generally the case that you won’t get your permits until you have successfully completed the EIS/EA process, but that is a sequencing issue, not a fundamental issue of law—or permitting per se.

Getting a permit may mean only that you have successfully completed something. In the case of uranium mine closure, you cannot be said to have successfully closed the mine until the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) gives you a closure permit—in effect a license to walk away from the site. This situation illustrates the terminological confusion that so often surrounds the idea of mine permitting and licensing.

That is why we sometime have to cut our way through the semantic jungle in which the partially-learned talk about a social license to mine, or being permitted to go ahead with your mine because you invoke the Equator Principles and get money from a naïve World Bank official. These acts and institutions have nothing to do with permitting in the day-to-day, run-of-the-mill sense. They have valuable roles to play, but should be approached from a different mind-set and should be negotiated by people with a very different set of professional skills. Good Luck.