Statement of Aaron Mintzes, Senior Policy Counsel, Earthworks:
When polluting interests seek special favors from government they often dress it up with the euphemism, “streamlining.” But “streamlining” for the mining industry means elbowing the public out of the way. Earlier today, behind closed doors and without input from those most affected, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Committee (FPISC) voted to silence the voices of mining impacted communities across the country. Unfortunately, you can bet those closed doors have been open to mining lobbyists.
Congress never intended this permitting scheme to cover hardrock mining. The FPISC’s authorizing statute, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST), covers surface transportation projects, like roads and highways. Mines, like the controversial Pebble Mine in Alaska, simply don’t qualify. Mines produce vast quantities of waste, much of it hazardous, that must be managed forever. Even with modern mining technology, water pollution, enormous waste rock piles, heavy metal laden dust, and toxic spills are the norm. Mining is the leading source of toxic pollution in the U.S., according to the EPA.
We need more oversight to reduce the damage and public costs imposed by mining, not less. The General Mining Law that governs today’s mining industry was passed in 1872, a relic from the days of Manifest Destiny that leaves communities exposed to harmful pollution in perpetuity, and taxpayers liable for cleanup costs. Bringing this outdated law into the 21st Century should be a top priority. Heading in the right direction are proposals offered up by Senator Tom Udall and U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva. Heading in the wrong direction is this industry-driven attempt to squeeze mining into FAST.
Community consultation is critical because mining creates serious environmental risks, often in perpetuity. Mines impact people from all walks of life, including those who rely on subsistence fishing or seasonal employment which can make it more difficult to devote the time necessary to meaningfully participate. Bear in mind that one of the proposals to add mining to the FAST Act originated from the Pebble Limited Partnership, the mining company behind the controversial Pebble Mine that threatens the world’s largest and most valuable wild salmon fishery and is widely opposed by the public both in and out of Alaska.
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