Federal Agencies Urged to Address Mining Rules: Two Opinions 

There is a push right now to address U.S. mining laws and as you might imagine, there are two sides to the story.

Tribal, conservation and community groups representing millions of people filed formal comments with federal agencies calling for more protective hardrock mining rules and legislation, including requiring mineral recycling to protect people and the environment.

The comments are in response to a request for public input from the federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) on mining reform, which is tasked with recommending updates to federal mining laws and policies and creating a more sustainable supply chain for all products with minerals. The organizations also called for the Interior Department to grant a petition filed in September to improve and modernize hardrock mining oversight on public lands.

“Times have changed since the General Mining Act of 1872,” said Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. “At that time, no one considered the impacts of mines on water, the air, the environment or even people. Today water is in scarce supply and we know that mining toxins in the air and water lead to cancer, and usually devastate all living creatures. 

Some mines have destroyed sacred and historical sites. Yet understandably we also need mines for the resources they produce and the global economy. For these reasons, mining must be reformed to be responsible and sustainable. The Interagency Working Group on Mining Reform is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to further consultation during the rulemaking process.”

Mining reform has taken on new urgency as Congress considers fossil fuel expansion legislation that would also favor mining interests proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in exchange for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act. According to a leaked draft, the bill would cut community input from the permitting process for mining projects and fossil fuel infrastructure. 

The groups’ suggestions include:

  • Respect the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and requiring their consent for any government actions in the mineral supply chain that may affect their community, lands or cultural resources.
  • Protect public and Indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands from harm to important environmental historical, cultural, biodiverse or other resources.
  • Require the Bureau of Land Management to verify mining rights.
  • Create a leasing regime for hardrock minerals, as proposed in the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act.
  • Incentivize a circular minerals economy – recycling and reuse – to help satisfy demand in the clean energy supply chain.

On the Other Side of the Coin Rep Steven Horford (D-Nev.-04) and Sen. Catherine Cortez 

Masto (D-Nev.) led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the Secretary of the Interior advocating for Nevada’s mining industry, but they may as well have been advocating for the mining industry as a whole. The mining industry helps rural communities get the jobs and economic benefits they earn and deserve, they noted in the letter. Nevada is home to many critical minerals, including the only lithium deposit in the United States. Nevada’s mines are crucial for our domestic supply chains and protect our national security. 

“Nevada supplies many of the minerals that Americans need to drive our 21st-century economy,” said Rep. Horford. “I led this letter to the IWG on Mining Reform to ensure that we continue to support union jobs in the rural communities in my district while still maintaining environmental standards that are critical to ensuring Nevada’s vast landscapes, flora, fauna, and wildlife. I will continue to work with the Biden/Harris Administration to ensure that we safeguard our domestic supply chains by creating jobs here in Nevada while protecting our environment.”

The letter states: As the IWG considers a variety of views, recommendations, and policies to formulate its own recommendations, we would suggest that the IWG consider the following principles in proposing new policies and recommendations:

  • Promote the development of domestic mineral resources in a timely, safe and environmentally sustainable manner pursuant to U.S. world-class standards.
  • Recognize the urgency of securing American production of minerals to reduce our reliance on China and other undependable foreign supply chains for minerals and materials critical to our economic and national security.
  • Ensure valid concerns about environmental protection are
    fully considered and addressed while preventing permitting process delays which unnecessarily increase the cost of a mining project and can trap mining projects in a limbo of duplicative, unpredictable and endless review without a decision point.
  • Acknowledge the important role of western mining states and other states with major mining projects in partnering with the federal government in the development of minerals policy.
  • Increase coordination and reduce duplication between federal and state agencies and regulations.
  • Encourage greater mapping of U.S. minerals resources.
  • Steer clear of changes to U.S. Mining Law that make new and existing projects unworkable by undermining the regulatory certainty needed to attract the large capital investments required to bring mining projects into operation.
  • Propose an all-encompassing strategy that includes coordination with allied nations sharing U.S. values, investments in human capital, minerals recycling, and innovative mining processes to boost efficiencies.

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