United States miners all should be paying close attention to a bill passed this week by Congress. I refer to Bill HR 4402. It is now up to the Senate and President to decide its fate. A Democrat-controlled Senate may sit on it and do nothing—that is unacceptable. The White House has stated that is opposes the bill; but has not threatened a veto. How could it?
The opposition to the bill boils down to the argument that the bill circumvents NEPA and is vague regarding judicial review. So be it. NEPA is a great act but it has been too often used for negative purposes. Judicial vagueness does not worry me: lawyers & judges all find a way to deal with vague laws: they recast them in their political shades and prejudices.
Many have come out in support of bill. Bokan Mine in Alaska has been loud in its support & enthusiasm. Bokan could supply a significant proportion of US rare earth needs. But the mine is in a remote corner of south-east Alaska in an area where hitherto no roads have been allowed. If the bill becomes law, Bokan may proceed—investors take note.
I cannot work out if the bill would make things easier for the Pebble Mine. If the Alaskan authorities could establish that NEPA is not applicable and Alaskan regulations take precedence, maybe we could circumvent NEPA and all that to-do that NEPA entails. I leave it to others to debate whether this would be a good or bad thing. I would certainly get much to blog about.
In the bigger picture, this bill is all part of the upcoming election of a new president. I would like to see statement on this bill from Obama and Romney. For their unalloyed statements would succinctly inform us of their attitudes re mining. Somebody said to me the other day that Obama will rapidly dump mining in Alaska if it played well in more populous marginal states.
Romney is preoccupied with the date of his departure from Bain and what is proving to the bane of his existence. I am not sure he knows what mining is—other than that his wife’s ancestors were miners in Wales. We have heard little of that recently.
When I studied law, my professors told me that hard cases make bad law. People from the litigants to the lawyers, to the judges are confounded by the difficult, contentious issues and settle for compromises and avoid the hard thinking that is really needed to cut the Gordian Knot. I suspect this bill is a valiant attempt to cut the Gordian Knot.
We all know that the system involved in developing mines in the US has become a ghastly nightmare. It has become a mud-wrestling pit involving ugly, old prostitutes—a battle between dirt-smeared, fat & fatuous individuals and companies. It is to nobody’s credit or benefit.
I urge that this bill or its equivalent be debated long and hard in the US Senate. Let us see and hear both sides. Let us decide to what extent NEPA is to the detriment of mining and national security. Let us hear if rare earths are so rare that we need jump to the front of getting new mines into production. So that we can thumb our noses at the Chinese. Incidentally, did you know that in Shakespeare’s day thumbing your nose at someone was the ultimate insult? Not a bad thing to resuscitate.
Let the White House, present & prospective, make a stand on things that count. Like developing national mines and national resources. All this blather about abortion, gun ownership, gay marriage, etc. is, in my opinion so much distraction. A mere sop to bigots in the south and church. In reality, who marries whom, who carries a gun in a dangerous place, and who decides what about reproduction is irrelevant in the greater picture. Look to Canada if you are still prejudiced. None of these is a real issue and mining prospers.
If we do not have resources, if we are hostage to enemies (real & imagined), if we are deprived of cell phones, light-weight bikes, wind turbines, and the ability to live comfortable and honorable lives, then all personal freedoms are curtailed and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is but a silly shadow of good government. When we scrap over access to resources, we will, perforce curtail the liberty of others. Thus it has always been and will always be. If you doubt me, look at those terrible places that are resource poor. There are just too many examples to list on a warm summer evening.
On which, it is time to go out and luxuriate in the warmth and good wine.
But before I do, here a quote from the best report on HR 4402 I found while reading to write this posting. Let me know if you concur or disagree with me. This is a significant issue for mining and a mining blog like this may impact what happens.
The quote from a good report:
The House approved legislation Thursday that would require federal agencies to take no longer than 30 months to make decisions related to mining permits, and limit the ability of groups to mount legal challenges against these permits.
Members voted 256-160 in favor of H.R. 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act. Twenty-two Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of the bill, after several Democrats argued during debate that the bill would unacceptably ease environmental rules.Under the bill, federal agencies would have to make an effort to minimize delays in the mining permitting process. This includes making a finding that proposed projects should not be subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) standards, if it can be determined that agency guidelines and/or state guidelines are enough to “ensure that environmental factors are taken into account.”It would also require civil suits against granted permits to be filed within 60 days after they are granted.Republicans said these changes are needed to help the United States keep pace with the rest of the world in producing minerals seen as key to manufacturing and national security.“Burdensome red tape, duplicative reviews, frivolous lawsuits and onerous regulations can hold up new mining projects for more than a decade,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). “These unnecessary delays cost American jobs, as we become more and more dependent on foreign countries for raw ingredients to fuel manufacturing and our economy.“This a jobs bill, and the positive economic impact of this bill’s intent will extend beyond the mining industry,” he added.Democrats argued that the bill would go too far in easing environmental rules. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) rejected the possibility of exempting some projects from environmental review under NEPA.“The whole idea of the National Environmental Protection Act is thatthere would be an independent review that involves public input, input from all affected interests, and input from somebody who speaks for the land, and somebody who speaks for the trees,” Holt said.But Republicans, including bill sponsor Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), said the bill still gives federal agencies plenty of time to make decisions for or against permitting decisions.“What’s the problem with two and a half years to talk about the permit?” Amodei asked. “What’s the problem with providing some predictability to the timing of the permitting process? What’s the problem with not stringing people out under NEPA for over a decade for mine decisions?”There are 17 minerals that are generally accepted as “rare earth”minerals that the bill would cover. But the bill is broader than that, covering minerals that support manufacturing, housing, transportation and other sectors, as well as those important for economic security and the balance of trade.Democrats said the bill would ease the federal regulatory process for all mining companies, not just those involved in rare-earth minerals or those seen as providing a strategic advantage.“The bill we are considering today is so broadly drafted, where apparently sand and gravel and crushed stone are considered rare and strategic, that the majority actually appears to be trying to usher in a new stone age,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said.Just before the final vote, the House rejected a Democratic amendment to limit the list of minerals for which mining permits could be streamlined under the bill. The House also rejected all five Democratic amendments offered to the bill.House passage sends the bill to a Democratic Senate that is likely to ignore the bill. On Tuesday, the Obama administration said it “strongly opposes” the bill because of its implications for the environment, and agreed with House Democrats that it would streamline permitting procedures for nearly all hardrock mining.The White House did not, however, say it would veto the bill.