U.S. Senate Democrats, Republicans introduce wide-ranging mining legislation

A bipartisan U.S. Senate group has introduced the Critical Mineral Acts, which promotes everything from minerals research to more efficient permitting to minerals education.

In a rare show of bipartisanship during a time of bitter battles between Congressional Democrats and Republicans, 17 U.S. senators Tuesday introduced a comprehensive bill aimed at fostering and facilitating the domestic growth of critical minerals to prevent future supply shocks.

The U.S. Senate version of the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013 is supported by the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, as well as the Ranking Member of the committee, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Oregon.

Senators from mining states, including Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada, also co-sponsored the legislation that National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn called “a welcome recognition of the urgent need to facilitate the development of American minerals.”

Quinn observed that the measure will analyze the “impediments to domestic minerals mining that hamper the prospects of a sustainable U.S. manufacturing renaissance. It is widely understood that the slow and inefficient permitting system in the U.S. poses the largest impediment to unlocking the full value of American minerals.”

The bill will provide clear direction to keep the U.S. competitive and begin to modernize federal minerals policies, said Murkowski. “While it took time to develop a bill we all could agree on, we have done just that—and the result will be more opportunities for domestic jobs, technological innovation, increased national security and greater competitiveness,” she said.

Wyden noted the bill “creates a more secure domestic supply chain for critical minerals, and makes sure that our country’s national defense, high-tech jobs, energy security and advanced medical care are not held hostage by foreign suppliers.”

“Every gram of these rare elements, like lithium and cobalt, is essential to our nation’s ability to win the global economic race,” said Democrat Udall. “This bill will help restore the United States as a global leader in critical minerals production, create jobs in Colorado and across the country, and strengthen our national security.”

“In Nevada and across the country, we have an abundance of critical and strategic minerals that play a vital role in our daily lives, as well as our nation’s economic success. Unfortunately, the United States still relies almost entirely on foreign countries such as China for many of these minerals,” said Republican Heller. “I am proud to join this bipartisan group of senators and look forward to the Senate passing this legislation.”

The bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to maintain a list of minerals and elements designated as critical, but no more than 20 minerals and elements can be designated at any given time. It would amend the National Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 to establish an analytical and forecasting capability for identifying critical mineral demand, supply and other market dynamics relevant to policy formulation to allow informed actions to be taken to avoid supply shortages, mitigate price volatility, and prepare for demand growth and other market shifts.

The measure also encourages federal agencies “to facilitate the availability, development, and environmentally responsible production of domestic resources to meet national critical material or mineral needs.”

Some of the strategies the bill suggests federal agencies consider are: avoiding duplication of effort, preventing unnecessary paperwork and minimizing unnecessary delays in the administration of laws and regulations, as well as issuing permits and authorizations necessary to explore for, develop and produce critical minerals., as well as construct mineral manufacturing facilities according to applicable environmental and land management laws.

The bill also suggests the federal government help strengthen educational and research capabilities and workforce training in mining, as well as improving international cooperation through technology transfer, information sharing and other means. The measure also calls for polices to promote the efficient production, use and recycling of critical minerals.

The legislation also stresses that the director of the U.S. Geological Survey carry out surveys to supplement existing information and datasets available for determining the existence of critical minerals in the United States.

The Secretary of Interior would be required to submit an interim report to Congress not later than one year after the date after the enactment of the act. The Secretary would also be required to work with the National Academy of Sciences to update the 1999 report by the academy entitled Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands.

The director of the Bureau of Land Management and the Secretary of Agriculture will be required to ensure that federal permitting and review processes “inform decisionmakers and affected communities about the potential positive and negative impacts of proposed mining activities.” The officials would also be required to set and adhere to “timelines and schedules for completion of reviews and for inspection and enforcement activities.”

The Secretary of Interior would also be directed to support research programs that focus on cobalt, lead, lithium and thorium. The secretary would also be required to conduct a program to identify, research, and develop rare earth elements from non-traditional sources.

The legislation also calls for $60 million in appropriations to carry out the act and the amendments made by the Critical Minerals Act.

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