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U.S. Mine Permitting 

 
Author: Jack Caldwell

Summary

This review discusses permits required in several U.S. states, including Alaska, Montana, California, and Wisconsin. Federal permits and Environmental Impact Statements are also covered.

INTRODUCTION

If you do not have the right permits, you cannot mine. Sometimes permits are called licenses. 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. In this review I address mine permitting only in the United States. At least in the US there is a transparent process. Elsewhere this is not necessarily the case, so nothing definitive can be said-other than hire lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians.

Thus in this review, I make no attempt to list all the permits you will require. Instead, I simply review the basic requirements, provide some general guidelines, and point you to links where you can find more information specific to your situation.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS

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.

PERMITTING PEOPLE

Who should you put in charge of getting all the permits you need to mine? The most successful permitting processes I have been involved with have had a group of local lawyers in charge of permitting. At the SME, there were a number of presentations by lawyers seeking more mine permitting work. I applaud this trend: a good lawyer knows how to identify the required permits, how to frame the issues to get the regulators to grant the permits, and how to fight if there is a regulatory delay.

On those projects where I was involved with permitting, and the local engineering consultants were in charge of permitting, things generally went slowly. Engineers get caught up in the truth and the technical facts. Most permitting authorities don't want to be bogged down with detail; they just want to make sure the boxes are checked off. Engineers always want to provide more information than is needed to check off the boxes required to grant the permit.

That said, it boils down to getting the right person with the right personality and experience in charge. They may come from anywhere-so take time to seek them out.

FEDERAL PERMITS

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 or states to which authority has been ceded to issue such permits. See in particular the EPA Training Document Mining 101: Introduction to Non-Coal Mining Operations for a good review of the permitting implications.

NPDES stands for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. I know of no U.S. mine without such a permit-see this link for one example of how a mine got their NPDES permit.

An example of state-administered NPDES permitting of mines, and a good diagram showing the general approach is on the website of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Also see that for Iowa where they do have quarries although no large mines.

The 404 permit is named for Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act. Specifically with regard to mining, the EPA notes:

The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires all point source discharges from mining operations be authorized under an NPDES permit, as described in Section 402 of the CWA. The construction of impoundments to serve as repositories for tailings and treatment of waste from mining and mineral processing operations are regulated by Section 404 of the CWA, as well as, Section 402 in the case of discharges from these impoundments into any waters of the United States.

404 permits come from the Corps of Engineers, i.e., the Department of the Army. At this link is a description of how the Fort Know mine went about getting their 404 permit. Keep in mind the 404 permit is not liked where mountaintop mining is undertaken. The 404 permit is needed if you put anything into a navigable water of the United States. That is where the lawyer comes in, for what constitutes navigable water is by no means clear. Best consult the lawyer if in doubt.

Title V permits as they relate to mine-impacted air quality are described at this link. In 2002 the Sterling Mine in Montana got such a permit laden with provisions.

ALASKA MINE PERMITTING

A great powerpoint presentation on the permitting process for a mine in Alaska is at this link. At this site is a conventional listing of permits to be obtained from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to open a mine in Alaska.

If you just want to open a small gold mine see this link where the permits required to undertake small gold mining in Alaska are listed and explained.

MONTANA MINE PERMITTING

Some might joke that it is not possible to permit a mine in Montana or California. Regardless of the truth of this assertion, Montana has a permitting and compliance division. And they focus, as do most states, on reclamation and bonding to pay for mine-site reclamation.

CALIFORNIA MINE PERMITTING

California elevates mine reclamation permitting to an art: they have the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act with the terrible acronym SMARA. I do not know the firm, but Lilburn Corporation claims to be "recognized as the premier mine permit and reclamation consulting firm in California." Maybe they can make me a liar and make you a miner? At least a quarry operator? And if Lilburn cannot help, then try Streamline Planning Consultants.

To get a mining permit in Mono County, you need to submit the following which I replicate as an example of what it takes to apply for a mining permit in general:

  1. Completed application form.
  2. Complete and detailed supporting materials, including plans, specifications, studies, maps, or other appropriate materials.
  3. Permit processing: See Development Fee Schedule for Mining Operations Permit.
  4. Environmental Review (CEQA): See Development Fee Schedule for Negative Declaration or Environmental Impact Report (deposit for initial study of EIR only).
  5. Completed Reclamation Plan application, including Draft Reclamation Plan, associated materials, and fees (see Reclamation Plan application for specific requirements and Development Fee Schedule for fees).
  6. Indemnification Agreement.

As the case history of the Soledad Mountain Project managed by the Golden Queen Mining Company of Vancouver BC illustrates, permitting in California can be a lot more complex than this list implies.

WISCONSIN MINE PERMITTING

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources site tells an interesting story of that states Mining Moratorium Law and its permitting implications; the law "requires an applicant to provide examples of a mining operation in the U.S. or Canada that have not resulted in significant environmental pollution."

At this link is a list of the permits that Nicolet Minerals Company was required to obtain before mining in Wisconsin.

OTHER STATES

To find out what permits you may need in other states, simply do a Google search with keywords: state name, mining, permit. Here are some interesting sources of information I found doing just that:

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