In the House
The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, delivers on the mining industry’s policy fantasy. If HR 761 ever becomes law, nearly anything pulled from the ground could be a critical mineral. Mining companies will simply bypass the environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act, short-circuit the permitting and public input processes, and close the courthouse door to justice-seeking impacted communities.
Congress is effectively talking about creating incentives for large, profitable mining operations that have rare earths or other minerals as a by-product of the primary mineral production.
Harvesting many rare earth minerals occurs as a by-product of other traditional hardrock metals. This presents the practical problem of streamlining permits for the rare earth minerals found in the same mine as uranium, iron, or copper. Worse yet, the bill allows the Interior Department to select any metal that could be subject to supply disruption or important for defense or agricultural applications as “critical”.
To the extent that there is a problem, the market is already solving it. A rare earths mine in California is slated to reopen within the year. And surveys of mining companies worldwide indicate that U.S. regulation/permitting is a competitive advantage rather than a disadvantage.
Mining industry surveys indicate that U.S. regulation/permitting is a competitive advantage rather than a disadvantage. HR 761 would compromise the permitting process. The National Academy of Sciences has already identified copper as one mineral under consideration for strategic mineral designation– despite ample stocks (nationally and worldwide) and declining prices.
Rare Earths – Critical Minerals
China has manipulated the rare earths minerals (REE) market, which is critical to manufacturing everything from iPhones to predator drones. And they currently control the vast majority of global production.
But, China does NOT host the vast majority of the world’s REE reserves. In fact “rare” earths is a bit of a misnomer — they’re not rare. Up until the late ‘90s, the now shuttered REE mine in California (Mountain Pass, owned by Molycorp) produced nearly all of our domestic needs. That mine is supposed to reopen soon.
In the meantime, China’s control of REE production has renewed a bipartisan interest in maintaining a supply of these materials.