Proposed Trump rule aims to ease restrictions on mineral mining companies

Proposed Trump rule aims to ease restrictions on mineral mining companies
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The Trump administration is proposing a rule to make it easier for mineral mining companies to lower their royalty rates and cut fees.

The rule submitted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday aims to “streamline” the regulations placed on nonenergy U.S. mineral development and make those companies more competitive.

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The proposal argues that “existing regulatory requirements are overly restrictive, inflexible, and burdensome” and that the Interior secretary has the power to reduce ongoing royalty rates, rental fees and minimum production requirements to promote development.

“The Trump administration is dedicated to enhancing the exploration and development of federal solid mineral resources in an environmentally conscious manner,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement. “By eliminating burdensome regulations, the U.S. will have a stronger foothold to compete globally in non-energy, solid, leasable commodities markets and increase job opportunities at home instead of abroad.”

Recommendations to simplify the process for obtaining royalty rate reductions were first made in February 2018 by Interior’s Royalty Policy Committee, a controversial advisory board made up largely of fossil fuel industry representatives established under former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air Overnight Energy: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis MORE. The charter of the committee was to advise on ways to eliminate obstacles to drilling and mining, including for minerals, faced by companies.

The committee, which was quietly terminated earlier this year, recommended at the time that Interior “revise, clarify and simplify process for granting varying royalty rate for declining or particularly costly fields.” 

Environmental groups in 2017 had asked a federal judge in Montana to disband the advisory board and strike down its recommendations.

An Interior spokesperson denied that the latest proposal was pulled from the committee’s recommendations.

Wednesday’s draft proposal follows a concerted effort by the Trump administration to jump-start the mining of what are known as “critical minerals,” or elements considered key to national security.

“This would improve the BLM’s ability to provide relief to producers of non-energy solid leasable minerals, from burdens, such as geological hardships and market transformations,” the proposal reads.

The administration first indicated in 2017 that it was looking at steps to boost mineral production when Trump signed an executive order to ensure there was a suitable supplies of critical minerals.

The administration in 2018 expanded the list of critical minerals from 23 to 35, adding uranium to the list for the first time. The Commerce Department in June issued a recommendation to help speed up production of all critical minerals on the list. The report argued that “assured supply of critical minerals and the resiliency of their supply chains are essential to the economic prosperity and national defense of the United States.”

Further, a government working group established by Trump this summer is expected to make an announcement as early as Thursday over whether the administration should further incentivize uranium mining in the U.S.

"While this proposed rule doesn't specifically mention uranium, the rule would apply to any uranium deposits found on acquired lands, as the mineral would be considered as leasable at that point," an Interior spokesperson told The Hill.

Wednesday's proposed rule explicitly says it would meet the requirements laid out in Trump’s 2017 executive order.

“This proposed rule would meet the goals” of the order “by improving the BLM’s ability to ensure continued production of critical minerals on public lands,” the proposal reads.

The text of the proposal also says the rule would give the agency “more flexibility to respond to changing market dynamics by improving the BLM’s ability to boost production and support development of the federal mineral estate when deemed necessary.”

The administration estimated that in 2017 nonenergy mineral mining in the country contributed $13.4 billion to the national economy. The proposed rule expects to save the industry $5 million in regulatory costs in the next decade.

The draft rule will be published in the Federal Register next week.