Critical and Strategic Minerals Bills
In the Senate
S.1113, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), seeks to encourage "critical" minerals development in the United States by asking the Interior Department to:
- Determine a methodology for identifying critical minerals
- Create a list of critical minerals using that methodology
- Examine all mining regulations soup to nuts to determine where permitting of critical minerals should be streamlined.
Harvesting many rare earth minerals occurs as a by-product of other traditional hardrock metals. This presents the practical problem of streamlining permits for the rare earth minerals found in the same mine as uranium, iron, or copper. Worse yet, the bill allows the Interior Department to select any metal that could be subject to supply disruption or important for defense or agricultural applications as "critical".
Congress is effectively talking about creating incentives for large, profitable mining operations that have rare earths or other minerals as a by-product of the primary mineral production.
To the extent that there is a problem, the market is already solving it. A rare earths mine in California is slated to reopen within the year. And surveys of mining companies worldwide indicate that U.S. regulation/permitting is a competitive advantage rather than a disadvantage.
We expect the bill to be marked up in September 2012.
Mining industry surveys indicate that U.S. regulation/permitting is a competitive advantage rather than a disadvantage. S.1113 would compromise the permitting process. The National Academy of Sciences has already identified copper as one mineral under consideration for strategic mineral designation-- despite ample stocks (nationally and worldwide) and declining prices.
Tell your Senators to Say NO to S. 1113! Urge them that limiting environmental review and public input does not change the global commodities markets.
Rare Earths - Critical Minerals
China has manipulated the rare earths minerals (REE) market, which is critical to manufacturing everything from iPhones to predator drones. And they currently control the vast majority of global production.
But, China does NOT host the vast majority of the world's REE reserves. In fact "rare" earths is a bit of a misnomer -- they're not rare. Up until the late ‘90s, the now shuttered REE mine in California (Mountain Pass, owned by Molycorp) produced nearly all of our domestic needs. That mine is supposed to reopen soon.
In the meantime, China’s control of REE production has renewed a bipartisan interest in maintaining a supply of these materials.
In the House
A different critical minerals bill, HR 4402, passed the House of Representatives back in July.
The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012, authored by former National Mining Association official Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, delivers on the mining industry’s policy fantasy. If HR 4402 ever becomes law, nearly anything pulled from the ground could be a critical mineral. Mining companies will simply bypass the environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act, short-circuit the permitting and public input processes, and close the courthouse door to justice-seeking impacted communities.
If S. 1113 passes the Senate, members of Congress will eventually have to negotiate a compromise version between the two chambers, likely worsening the Senate version.
For more information:
- Take Action! Tell your Senators to oppose S.1113
- Senate: Bill S.1113
- Earthworks: S.1113 fact sheet
- Earthworks: House Majority Pushes USA to Mine More Like the Chinese
- Earthworks: Not so rare after all: Lynas Corporation’s rare earth refinery in Malaysia
- Earthworks: Testimony on HR 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012
- Earthworks: [Factsheet] HR 4402: Threatening Water Resources, Disenfranchising Communities
Earthblog: The Critical Minerals Debate: Silencing Community Voices to Ease International Markets