WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday passed a bill to clear bureaucratic roadblocks on mining operations for critical and rare earth minerals it deemed necessary for military use and the manufacture of computers, cell phones, medical technology and alternative energy products.
The measure passed on a bipartisan vote of 246 yeas to 178 nays with Colorado’s Republican Reps. Scott Tipton, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman, and Cory Gardner voting yes, and Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter voting no. Jared Polis was not present for the vote.
“Not a day goes by when Americans don’t use a product that is made from critical minerals,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“In fact, life as we know it in the 21st century would not be possible without minerals,” Hastings said. “There would be no MRI, CAT scan or X-ray machines. There would be no wind turbines or solar panels. The list is exhaustive of the things that depend on critical minerals that make modern life possible.”
Colorado is a mineral rich state with a productive mining history dating back to 1859 with the extraction of gold.
Reserves of minerals in the state that continue to be mined include gold as well as coal, gypsum, limestone, silver, molybdenum, soda ash, sodium bicarbonate, sand, gravel, and crushed stone.
Democrats who opposed the bill quibbled with how the bill defined strategic and critical minerals, complaining that it was too inclusive and could be interpreted to include sand and gravel.
According to the bill, the term includes everything necessary for national defense and the energy infrastructure including pipelines, refineries and electrical power generation, as well as to support domestic manufacturing, agriculture, housing, telecommunications, healthcare, transportation infrastructure and to ensure trade balance.
“These critical minerals are not critical,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat and ranking member of the resources committee. “It’s anything and everything on federal land.”
Democrats also argued that the legislation would allow regulators to skip vigorous environmental reviews, and criticized Republicans for not demanding mining companies pay additional royalties for operations on federal land.
Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, said charging federal royalties would only take money away from local and state governments already charging taxes and royalties on mining operations.
“If the goal is to raise money, simply because you found an effort for the federal government to raise more money, it doesn’t mean you should rush in when it would have a negative aspect someplace else,” Bishop said.
“In this case, the negative aspect is on state and local royalties being paid,” Bishop said.
The U.S. was dependent 25 years ago upon importation of 30 minerals, today the manufacturers of military and consumer products relies on imports to obtain more than 60 minerals.
For rare earth minerals, the U.S. is almost entirely dependent upon China, which produces 97 percent of the world’s supply.
The bill would require federal bureaucrats to speed up the time it takes to approve permitting on federal lands to begin the mining process that now takes as long as seven to 10 years.
Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada Republican and the bill’s author, said his measure sets a 30-month timeline to make a decision.
“It does not rape the land,” Amodei said.
“Decade-long permitting delays stand in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local communities,” Amodei said.
The mining industry in Colorado directly employees 12,000, and another 46,000 jobs in related industries such as engineering, consulting, geotechnical and utility services, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
“This bill would not change environmental regulations or public input. It would streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic, national security, and environmental concerns,” Amodei said.
Last year, the U.S. was ranked at the bottom of a list of 25 countries, along with Papua, New Guinea, for timely permitting processes.
Rep. Rush Holt, New Jersey Democrat, said the Obama administration has sped up the timing of permits by 17 percent, and suggested that mining companies were responsible for the lengthy delays because they did not submit the correct paperwork in a timely fashion.