On May 15, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee passed HR 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013. Earthworks opposes this bill because it effectively ends the traditional process for gathering community input and performing environmental reviews for mining projects.
Back in March, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources invited Earthworks Executive Director Jennifer Krill to testify during the hearing. As Jennifer pointed out, the mining industry manages fairly well under our current laws; they really don’t need any more incentives. As it is, they benefit from the 1872 Mining Law that allows miners virtually free access to remove metals from public lands. Metal mining on these public lands enjoys priority over any other use. Once they extract the metals, the mining companies pay no royalty to the taxpayers.
HR 761’s title is just pretext. Unless our nation unexpectedly faces a severe earring shortage, nothing about HR 761 encourages the production of so-called critical minerals. Not that mining companies need any encouragement. As Jennifer’s testimony indicated, the mining industry loves to dig here. But don’t take her word for it- ask the mining companies. The Fraser Institute, a center-right Canadian think-tank, conducts an annual survey of mining company executives. They ask them to rank among nearly one hundred jurisdictions around the world, which are the most welcoming to mineral investment. The United States has three states in the top ten, four in the top twenty.
We are truly a great country, especially for the mining industry. In addition to the extraordinary benefits conferred upon them by the 1872 Mining Law, the USA has a strong currency, courts that enforce contracts, stable democratic institutions, and perhaps most importantly, an orderly process for soliciting community opinion. It is the latter, that is the main target of HR 761. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), passed in 1970, provides certainty in the permitting process and allows for the government to hear from average citizens on environmental decisions that affect them. After more than forty years, regulatory agencies, permit applicants, and many residents of mining communities know this process quite well. Now, the House majority seeks to effectively put an end to NEPA and silence those community voices who wish to take part in permitting decisions.
HR 761 also guts the Equal Access to Justice Act that opens the courthouse doors to communities seeking legal redress simply hoping to level the playing field. In some parts of the world, disputes over proposed mines create serious social unrest, sometimes resulting in violent protests. Where would you want to invest your money? Our nation’s NEPA process reinforces our democracy and the mining industry benefits greatly from it. Places with less robust processes for seeking the free, prior, and informed consent of people living near mines, often struggle to attract the kind of mineral investment we see in America.
The hardrock mining industry is once again this year’s top toxic polluter in the nation. And major loopholes in the Clean Water Act allow them to dump their toxic sludge in to our rivers, lakes, and streams. Jennifer’s testimony reminded Congress how good the mining industry already has it. Cutting corners around the permitting process undermines the market certainty NEPA creates and that mining investors crave.