The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Breaking gridlock

Murkowski pushes energy bill with mining perks toward President's desk

During an era of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has managed to garner broad support for an energy bill aimed at modernizing the way power is produced in the United States, including numerous provisions important to Alaska. The legislation, which was passed out of the U.S. Senate with an 85-12 vote, also contains provisions to improve access to the U.S. mineral resources supply by streamlining the minerals mine permitting process.

"My top priority as chairman is to deliver for Alaska - and I worked hard to add dozens of our state's priorities for energy, mineral, and lands policy into my broad, bipartisan bill," Murkowski, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, explained.

For the mining sector, Murkowski's legislation, S. 2012, addresses key bottlenecks in the United States' minerals supply chain by establishing timelines for critical mineral projects and making the mine permitting process more efficient.

"The 'Energy Modernization Policy Act of 2016,' passed by the Senate today, includes much-needed improvements in the nation's permitting systems for metal and mineral mines to better position our country to achieve a truly all-of-the-above energy portfolio," said National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn. "Simply put, mineral security is a critical element to U.S. energy systems and Sen. Murkowski's bill promotes better access to the raw materials that make it all possible."

Bipartisan bill

Co-authored by U. S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, S. 2012 is touted as the first comprehensive energy bill to pass out of the Senate since before President Obama took office.

Over the ensuing nine years, technological advances have driven sweeping changes to how energy is produced, stored, transmitted and used in the United States.

"There's so much change going on in the energy sector now, we need to have an energy bill every year," said Sen. Cantwell.

"This bipartisan bill is an important next step for saving consumers money on energy costs, providing more options to power U.S. homes and businesses, and preparing the next generation of workers for jobs in clean energy," she added.

To craft energy legislation that is palatable to Republicans and Democrats alike, Murkowski and Cantwell avoided partisan pitfalls and included provisions that are important to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

S. 2012 includes provisions that support further development of mineral, oil and gas resources as well as renewable resources such as wind and solar.

As a result, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 garnered support from trade organizations such as the National Mining Association, Alaska Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum Institute, as well as conservation groups such as the Pew Charitable Trusts.

AOGA said a provision that would allow for routing an Alaska natural gas pipeline through Denali National Park and Preserve in order to avoid a seismic fault; and a requirement for the U.S. Secretary of Energy to make a decision on any liquefied natural gas export application within 45 days after completion of environmental review would be good for Alaska's natural gas sector.

"Alaska wins with this bill," said Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of AOGA. "Not only do we as a state regain some control over the overly burdensome federal permitting process as a result of this bill, but our chances at realizing a commercial natural gas project also are increased."

Organizations from both ends of the spectrum also found worrisome provisions in the legislation.

"Proponents claim that the bill is non-controversial. But for those concerned about government interference in the energy sector, the authors have planted red flags throughout the legislation," said an economist focused on energy and environmental policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said, "Unfortunately, problematic provisions remain in this bill that would boost dirty fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear projects, while undermining the President's Clean Power Plan and U.S. climate progress."

"It is clear that a significant amount of bipartisan effort went into this legislation, but, at the end of the day, the balance of this bill favors the dirty and dangerous fossil fuels of the past at a time when we need to move full speed ahead towards an economy powered by clean, renewable energy," Pierce added.

House conference(s)

For America's mining sector, the most important stage of Energy Modernization Policy Act of 2016 may be its trip through the U.S. House of Representatives.

Murkowski and Cantwell have expressed a desire to conference with their colleagues in the House in order to get a bill to the President's desk for signing.

Murkowski has been talking with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, her counterpart on the other side of Capitol Hill, about conferencing S. 2012 with H.R. 8, a similar energy bill that passed the House largely along party lines.

In November, White House advisors said they would recommend a veto of H. R. 8 if it landed on the President's desk in its current form. On the other hand, besides a few specific concerns with S. 2012, the Administration found the Senate energy bill more palatable than the House version.

"The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to address these and other concerns as the bill (S. 2012) moves through the legislative process," the White House said in a January statement.

NMA President Quinn would like the mineral sections of S. 2012 to be conferenced with H. R. 1937, a mining bill introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada. This measure has passed the House on numerous occasions but has never gained traction in the Senate.

"We now call on Congress to build on this achievement and conference the Senate-passed minerals provisions with those included in H.R. 1937, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, which passed the House for the fourth time last October," he commented on the passage of the Senate energy legislation.

Amodei hopes his legislation, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015, will help America become less dependent on foreign countries such as China for minerals needed for its domestic security and economic wellbeing.

"It's not hyperbole to say our national defense and way of life depend on mineral production," Amodei upon the most recent House approval of the bill. "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."

To ensure the United States is more self-reliant for its strategic and critical minerals, H. R. 1937 aims to shorten the nation's notoriously long permitting process.

"Our outdated and duplicative permitting process can last on average seven to 10 years, discouraging investment and jeopardizing the growth of downstream industries, technological innovation and supply-chain security," explained Quinn.

S. 2012 also addresses key bottlenecks in the United States' minerals supply chain by defining minerals critical and strategic to the United States' security, economic, and energy needs and establishing timelines for the permitting process for such minerals.

Murkowski vowed to continue her collaborative efforts to ensure that her bipartisan energy bill advances through a conference with the House and becomes law before the end of this year.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Author photo

Over his more than 16 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.


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