New Critical Minerals Threat Emerges in Defense Bill Negotiations

Two weeks ago, the House passed a national defense funding bill with a nasty rider completely unrelated to the security of our country: if it becomes law, any proposal to dig up a “critical” mineral would enjoy an expedited permitting process, minimal environmental review, and potentially no public input. Worse, the bill would redefine “critical minerals” to include almost any rock, including (yes, believe it) gravel.

As the Senate drafts its version of the defense bill, Senator Heller (R-NV) put a similar rider (amendment 2398) on the table last week. Earthworks and our allies have spent the last week educating Senators about the threat this poses to communities and the environment.

Now we are hearing that there’s a new proposal in the mix—one that would, like Heller’s amendment, erode the already flimsy environmental and community protections against the impacts of mining.

Alaska’s Senator Murkowski has introduced an amendment (amendment 2573) that, at first glance, looks like a bipartisan agreement she developed with Senator Cantwell (D-WA) in 2015, as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act. But there’s one addition that you’d miss if you weren’t reading closely: the amendment proposes adding President Trump’s definition of ‘critical minerals’ (which includes byproducts that we export, like helium) to the list of sectors covered by federal legislation that grants funds and speeds up infrastructure projects. That law, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (aka FAST-41), passed in 2015. FAST-41, like the Heller amendment, guts public and environmental input into government decision making. Some Senators have already opposed adding hardrock mining to FAST-41.

Of all industries, the nation’s top toxic polluter should be the last to receive special treatment. Too often hardrock mines leave pollution that ruins communities’ drinking water–pollution that taxpayers must pay to clean up.

We hope Senators will block these special favors for the mining industry from the defense funding bill.

Telling your Senators to block these amendments to cut the public out of the government decision making process makes it more likely they actually will block it. So, please call your Senators, or if you can’t call then email them.