Jack Caldwell - Mining Engineer - Robertson GeoConsultants

Jamie Caswell , Communications Manager for the National Mining Association sent me this email:

I wanted to share an update with you on NMA’s latest progress. Recently, NMA President and CEO Hal Quinn traveled across the country to meet with scholars, policymakers, scientist and CEOs. At the meeting, Quinn and other participants readily acknowledged the importance of minerals to the lives of Americans and job growth in this economy.

That being said, one of the biggest hurdles preventing U.S. minerals mining from adding jobs and growing the economy is an outdated permitting process. Permitting delays have left U.S. manufacturers more reliant on foreign sources for minerals that we have right here at home. That means we are transferring jobs and economic benefits overseas and needlessly complicating our mineral supply chains.

NMA is dedicated to growing America’s economy, and that’s why we’re aggressively supporting H.R. 4402, legislation that will help establish regulatory consistency and efficient mining permitting processes. This legislation is expected to be debated on the House floor in July, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would share the importance of passing H.R. 4402 with your readers.

The Hill notes in a report yesterday:

The House is poised to pass legislation aimed at streamlining the approval process for permits to mine for rare-earth minerals, a bill that responds to increased demand for rare earths around the world, as well as China’s export restraints for these minerals.

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, H.R. 4402, could come up as early as next week, as the House Rules Committee has set an amendment deadline for next week on the bill. The committee may also prepare a rule for floor consideration, although no meeting for that purpose has been scheduled yet.

I took a look at the proposed bill which is available at this link. It starts with some alarming statistics, namely:

Twenty-five years ago the United States was dependent on foreign sources for 30 nonfuel mineral materials, 6 of which the United States imported 100 percent of the Nation’s requirements, and for another 16 commodities the United States imported more than 60 percent of the Nation’s needs.

By 2011 the United States import dependence for nonfuel mineral materials had 5 more than doubled from 30 to 67 commodities, 19 of which the United States imported 100 percent of the Nation’s requirements, and for another 24 commodities, imported more than 50 percent of the Nation’s needs.

The United States share of world wide mineral exploration dollars was 8 percent in 2011, down from 19 percent in the early 1990s. In the 2012 Ranking of Countries for 14 Mining Investment, out of 25 major mining 15 countries, the United States ranked last with Papua New Guinea in permitting delays, and towards the bottom regarding government take and social issues affecting mining.

To address this situation, the proposed act would do a few things.

First, the lead agency responsible for issuing a mineral exploration or mine permit would appoint a project lead o coordinate and consult with other agencies, cooperating agencies, project proponents and contractors in order to ensure that agencies minimize delays, se and adhere to timelines and schedules, set clear permitting goals, and track progress.

Similar ideas for an agency lead have been discussed in British Columbia and Canada at the Federal level. I am not aware of any project lead that have been appointed, or if they have of their success record. The idea is good, but I cannot but wonder if this does not merely introduce yet another layer of management.

Second there is a provision that appears to me to be an attempt to circumvent NEPA. The lead agency would be entitled to decide that their own agency procedures are sufficient “to ensure that environmental factors are taken into account,” and thereby preclude NEPA and all its delays.

Third there is a very hopeful provision calling on lead agencies to “enhance government coordination ..by avoiding duplicative reviews, minimizing paperwork, and engaging other agencies and stakeholders early in the process.”

Then they limit the total review process period to 30 months. Wow, is that possible in today’s climate when most reviews take decades?

Inserted, almost as an afterthought is this gem: “In developing the mineral exploration or mine permit, the priority of the lead agency shall be to maximize the development of the mineral resource, while mitigating environmental impacts, so that more of the mineral resource can be brought to the market place.”

Finally there is a section on judicial review. Apart from exhorting the courts to “endeavor to hear and determine any covered civil action as expeditiously as possible,” (lawyers take note), the act sets out to limit the timing of launching of civil actions against the project, limit awards, and to limit payment by the government of attorney’s fees, expenses, and court costs.

Some response to the poposed act include these statements:

Earthworks: Masquerading as a bill about “strategic and critical minerals,” HR 4402 takes the nation’s top toxic polluter, the hardrock mining industry, and strips away key protections for public health, water and communities.

Save the Wild: If this bill becomes law, it will allow the mining industry to poison our lakes, rivers and streams and disenfranchise local communities.

Watch next week’s news for more on the passage of the bill.