Our friends Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers recently released an interactive report regarding so-called critical minerals, describing the threat to wildlife and water resources that mining poses. But fish and wildlife do not distinguish among minerals. The acid mine drainage that pollutes the headwaters of 40% of Western watersheds impacts them the same, regardless of the mineral’s end use.
Friends tell each other the truth. Unfortunately the truth here is that “critical minerals” is a term used by the mining industry to advocate for less oversight, limited environmental review, and truncated community involvement in the mine permitting process. Mining should always be a last resort and any mining demands responsible oversight.
Trout’s report’s first tenet for responsible critical mineral development – sourcing alternatives such as recycling, reuse, and substitution, is where our minerals policy should be headed. Let’s develop the capacity for a circular economy that will pay dividends in protecting natural resources, creating jobs, and securing our mineral needs. Public and private investment all over the world has spurred innovations in these technologies that reduce the need for mineral consumption and drive demand in responsible sourcing.
Responsible oversight of mining in the United States cannot occur without meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law. There can be no responsible mineral development without updating the antiquated law that pollutes our waters and threatens western communities. Internationally, the multi-sector Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance standard has helped set the bar for more rigorous environmental and social practices at existing mines. Clean tech companies, recyclers, and manufacturers have market power to demand responsibly sourced minerals and drive improvements in efficiency.
As we shape our minerals policy—critical or otherwise—we should first consider the end of the supply chain and work our way backward. Too often, our policymakers believe that the only place to get a mineral is from a new domestic mine. And yet, the Europeans and the Japanese have spent the last few years lapping the United States in the race toward a circular minerals economy. Germany and Siemens, Japan and Honda, Belgium and Umicore are just a few examples where governments and mineral consumers have incentivized more responsible sourcing options.
We appreciate the work that Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers do to conserve, protect and restore America’s fisheries, wildlife and the water and land they depend on. We hope that the hunting and fishing community can join with local elected officials, Native communities, taxpayer advocates, recreationists and conservationists to support as a first priority a comprehensive new minerals policy governing all minerals that protects public lands and waters, gives communities a meaningful voice in mining projects, and allows us to get the minerals we need in a just, equitable way, with protective, common-sense environmental standards.