Mining project permitting streamlining bill introduced in U.S. Congress

A bill introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei setting deadlines for permitting U.S. strategic and critical mining development would also impose limits on litigation related to the projects.

Author: Dorothy Kosich
Posted: Friday , 20 Apr 2012


Former Nevada Mining Association President-turned Congressman, Mark Amodei Thursday introduced the Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act (H.R. 4202), aimed at streamlining the federal permitting process for mineral development.

"In the 2012 ranking of countries for mining investment, the United States ranked last, tied with Papua New Guinea, in permitting delays," Rep. Amodei, R-Nevada, said in a news release.

"Duplicative regulations, bureaucratic inefficiency, and lack of coordination between federal agencies are threatening the economic recovery of my home state and jeopardizing our national securities," said the freshman lawmaker in a news release. "Nevada, which is rich in strategic and critical minerals, also has the highest unemployment rate in the nation."

"Decade-long permitting delays are standing in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local communities," Amodei, an attorney, observed. "This bill would streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation's vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic and environmental concerns."

House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Washington, said, "America cannot afford to be heavily reliant on foreign countries for our energy or for strategic and critical minerals that are necessary for so many of the products used in our daily lives."

"We have all seen the impact of our dependence on foreign oil; when we have the resources, like rare earth elements, available here at home there is no reason that we should have complete dependence on foreign minerals," Hastings stressed. "Rep. Amodei's bill is a common sense plan to create jobs and increase American-made energy and mineral production."

National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn called the legislation "vital to meeting the nation's infrastructure, security and manufacturing needs. The bill lays out a framework for domestic minerals exploration and production-the first steps in the supply chain."

"Without changing environmental and other protections provided by current laws and regulations, the bill will bring the U.S. in line with our competitors for mineral exploration investments-countries such as Australia and Canada that have already modernized the permitting regime," Quinn observed.

"While we operate in a global economy, the U.S. continues to lose employment and economic growth opportunities due to insufficient domestic minerals production," he said. "The length, complexity and uncertainty of our permitting process are consistently cited as the primary reasons investors put their dollars elsewhere."

"In a world in which the competition for mineral resources is increasingly fierce, America can no longer afford to benignly neglect a permitting process that stalls investment-threatening raw materials shortages and downstream economic activity," Quinn stressed. "We need assertive measures to reverse a 30-year trend of increasing import reliance for materials we have here at home and lend a much-needed hand to the industries that will put Americans back to work."

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 will require the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture "to more efficiently develop domestic sources of strategic and critical minerals and mineral materials; including rare earth elements."

The measure defines strategic and critical minerals as those that are necessary for national defense and national security requirements; for the nation's energy infrastructure including pipelines, refining capacity, electrical power generation and transmission; to support domestic manufacturing, agriculture, housing, telecommunications, health care and transportation infrastructure; and for the nation's economic security and balance of trade.

The bill also aims to facilitate a timely permitting process for mining exploration and mine development project by clearly defining the responsibilities of a lead agency. The lead agency with responsibility for issuing a mineral exploration or mine permit would be required to appoint a project lead to coordinate and consult with other agencies, project proponents and contractors "to ensure that agencies minimize delays, set and adhere to timelines and schedules for completion of reviews, set clear permitting goals and track progress against those goals."

It would also limit the total review process for mining permits to a maximum of 30 months unless signatories agree to an extension.

Amodei said H.R. 4202 "ensures American mineral mining projects are not indefinitely delayed by frivolous lawsuits by setting reasonable time limits for litigation" including setting a 90-day time limit to file a legal challenge to an energy project. The bill requires legal challenges to a mining project be filed in the judicial district where the project is located, and limits any preliminary injunctions to halt mining projects to 60 days unless the court finds clear reason to extend the injunction.

A subcommittee legislative hearing on the bill is scheduled for April 26.