House votes to streamline mineral mining approval

Republicans say the bill is needed because the federal government has been known to hold up mining permits for several years. That has forced the United States to rely on imported strategic minerals for defense and other applications.

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"Burdensome of red tape, duplicative reviews, frivolous lawsuits and onerous regulations can hold up new mining projects here in the U.S. for more than 10 years," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). "These unnecessary delays cost American jobs as we become more and more dependent on foreign countries for these raw ingredients.

"As China continues to tighten global supplies of rare earth elements, we should respond with an American mineral mining renaissance that will bring mining and manufacturing jobs back to America."

The bill gives federal agencies just 30 months to decide on whether to approve or reject permits for exploration and mining. The bill also limits the ability of parties to use the courts to stop mining.

Democrats said they opposed the bill because it would erode environmental protections, and because the bill includes a very broad definition of "strategic mineral."

"Under the guise of promoting the development of minerals critical to the United States' national security, this legislation would reshape mining decisions on public lands for almost all minerals," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). "The bill's classification of critical minerals is so broad that even sand and gravel and other such things can fall under its definition."

Holt said the broad definition amounts to a "giveaway" to mining companies. He also rejected the idea that federal agencies are slowing down the approval process for mining companies simply to make their lives miserable.

"They are charged with protecting the lands that belong to Americans, the health of Americans and the long-term welfare of the communities," he said of federal agencies.

Democrats made two attempts at narrowing the scope of minerals that would be considered "strategic" under the bill, but the House rejected both. The House considered five amendments today, and only accepted one, from Republicans.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, but like in the last Congress, it seems unlikely that the Senate will consider the bill.

Results from today's amendment votes follow here:

— Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), clarifying the bill to only apply to minerals identified as strategic and critical by the National Research Council. Failed 187-241.

— Marc Veasey (D-Texas), requiring the Secretary of the Interior to publish a list of strategic and critical minerals 60 days after its enactment. Failed 189-237.

— Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), requiring mineral exploration and mining projects to be subjected to an environmental impact statement before its approval. Failed 186-240.

— Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), requiring insurance policies of mining companies to include possible cleanup costs. Failed 191-235.

— Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), clarifying that the bill would not impact secretarial order 3324 as it relates to oil gas and potash. Accepted in voice vote.

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