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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

House OKs critical minerals bill, again

Legislation aimed at streamlining mine permitting gets greenlight for fourth time in three years; measure now faces Senate vote

 

Last updated 11/1/2015 at Noon



The "National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015," legislation aimed at streamlining the lengthy process of permitting a mine in the United States, passed the U. S. House of Representative Oct. 22.

National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said this bill, introduced by U. S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, "will bring the U.S. mine permitting system into the 21st century and help boost the country's economy and manufacturing renaissance."

By doing so, Amodei hopes his legislation, H. R. 1937, will help the nation become less dependent on foreign countries such as China for minerals needed for its domestic security and economic wellbeing.

"From military technology, such as aircraft and missiles used by service men and women to defend our country; to the cars, smartphones and televisions we use every day; to medication and medical supplies; they all contain strategic and critical minerals such as rare earth elements, as well as gold and silver, to name a few," said the Nevada congressman.

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015, however, must first get past the U. S. Senate.

"This legislation has received approximately 1,054 bipartisan votes, passing the House four times (during) the past three Congresses," said Amodei. "I look forward to the Senate joining the fray this Congress and helping the House solve this important issue for the country."

Streamlining permitting

If signed into law, H. R. 1937 would address the notoriously long permitting process in the United States.

"The sheer number of permits required and the lack of coordination among the relevant agencies results in a seven- to 10-year permit timeframe for mining projects in the U. S.," SNL Metals & Mining wrote in a report published earlier this year.

The research firm found that U. S. mines lose up to half their value during the course of this nearly decade-long approval process.

Quinn said the effects of this ripples through the U.S. economy.

"While America is home to US$6.2 trillion worth of mineral resources, a lengthy and duplicative federal permitting process discourages investment and jeopardizes the growth of downstream industries, high-wage jobs and technological innovation that all depend on a secure and reliable mineral supply chain," he added.

Testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee, Luke Russell, vice president of external affairs, Hecla Mining Co., said the United States has the most "arduous and tortuous process" he has encountered in his 30 years of permitting mines around the globe.

"The U.S. process is fraught with duplication, inefficiencies, a lack of reasonable timeframes/sideboards, a lack of coordination among federal agencies and multiple, never-ending litigation," he said.

To tackle this problem, Amodei's legislation would put "sideboards" on permitting by limiting the total review process for issuing permits to 30 months.

The legislation also addresses the "never-ending litigation" by setting a 60-day time limit to file a legal challenge to a mining project; limiting injunctive relief to what is necessary to correct the violation of a legal requirement; and prohibiting the payment of attorney's fees, expenses and other costs by the U.S. taxpayer.

Environmental safeguards intact

Amodei said the permit streamlining described in the legislation he authored can be accomplished without compromising the environmental safeguards in place.

"It would simply streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation's vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic, national security and environmental concerns," he said.

When comparing the laggard U.S. permitting system with those being implemented by other western countries, SNL Metals & Mining found that more time does not necessarily result in stronger environmental protections.

"Like the U.S., the environmental permitting process in other developed world mining countries, such as Australia and Canada, is very stringent. These countries also require consultation with local communities and give stakeholders the right to raise objections and appeals. However, in both countries, the processes for obtaining permits are swifter than those observed in the U.S.," the research firm wrote.

Both of these top mining countries limit the permitting process to around two years, which is less than the 30 months being called for in H.R. 1937.

"NMA applauds the House for passing this bipartisan legislation that carefully addresses the inefficiencies of our underperforming permitting system by incorporating best practices for improving coordination among state and federal agencies, clarifying responsibilities, avoiding duplication, setting timeframes and bringing badly needed accountability to the process - all without compromising our rigorous environmental standards," Quinn said.

 

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