June 2019 by Scott Harn
Clark Pearson (Public Lands for the People) and I completed our fifth trip in 2019 to Washington, DC in early May. Over several days, we provided copies of our educational/legislative packet to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and House members who are part of the Western Caucus.
Prior to this trip we had learned that the official at the Environmental Protection Agency we had been working with was not the correct person to get the job done. The goal is to get EPA clarification for the terms “incidental fallback” and “addition of a pollutant” under the Clean Water Act. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed these terms to be liberally interpreted by agencies and environmental groups to stop suction dredge mining and related activities, and they have been applied far beyond the original intent.
We received assistance from a friend in DC and he put us in touch with the right person at EPA. Unfortunately there were scheduling conflicts, but we were able to pass along the information and supporting documentation for her to work on this request.
Remember that the title of our proposed legislation has the words “Critical” and “China” in the title, but it’s written to assist all miners, large and small. And speaking of China, they announced they will be placing tariffs of 25% beginning June 1 on critical minerals and rare earths America needs for everything from electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels, to computers, cell phones, battery-powered tools, radar guidance equipment, missile systems and many related defense applications.
A bill was reintroduced by Rep. Amodei to help reduce the time frame for mine permitting to 30 months after a Plan is submitted, but it lacks the “teeth” needed to make it enforceable. We had proposed that a failure to make that deadline should allow the operator to commence under operation of law, but without that caveat the miner will be forced to go to court to compel the agency to act. Australia, with stringent environmental standards like we have here in the US, can review permits in two to three years; there’s absolutely no reason America cannot do the same.
Senator Murkowski’s bill seeks to start a comprehensive survey, inventory and reporting process for critical minerals by the US Geological Survey. It’s a good start, but the results won’t be seen until several years down the road, and this bill fails to provide access to all the areas that are blocked off due to mineral withdrawals and Forest Service Travel Management Plans.
Meanwhile, Rep. Grijalva (D-Arizona) assumed chairmanship of the House Natural Resources Committee after Democrats took control of the House. He introduced Mining Law Reform legislation that would set us back decades by automatically cancelling mining claims after 20 years, imposing heavy royalties and adding new regulatory burdens, further discouraging American investment in any form of mining. As long as Republicans retain control of the Senate, there is little chance of Grijalva’s legislation becoming law.
It just might take a full embargo on critical minerals by China before members of Congress take meaningful action on mining legislation to create regulatory certainty.
PLP’s online petition to show support for our proposed legislation is now available on their website at www.publiclandsforthepeople.org. Just click on the “Take Action” banner to read the legislation and endorsement letters we’ve received so far and to sign the petition. Keep in mind that you will receive a confirmation email after signing the petition. You’ll need to respond to that email in order to be included. We want to take a very large packet with the names and hometowns of Americans who support this legislation and provide it to influential members of Congress to show them they have the support of their constituents.
After President Trump signed several executive orders to reduce regulations and to declare critical minerals are a national security issue, the best path to get our legislation through Congress seems to be via the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The yearly NDAA is up for review right now—that is why we started our trips to DC early and often this year. While there is no assurance our proposed legislation will be included, a Chief of Staff for one of the Republican House members contacted me by phone after our return to assure me they will do their best to get at least a few provisions from our proposal through by any means possible.
I want to take a moment to call out the efforts of two members of Congress. Though I don’t live in either Arizona or Utah, my wife and I support Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) with a monthly contribution. I’ve met and talked with both of them on several occasions. They are part of select few who understand the myriad of problems miners face in America. Don’t take my word for it; visit their websites and sign up for their newsletters to see what they are doing on your behalf. If you decide to contribute to the election of anyone in Congress, please follow up with an email expressing your support for “Critical Minerals: National Security Amendments to the NDAA” by Public Lands for the People.
We’ve built up some contacts in DC during our trips there over the past four years, and we believe we finally have the correct contacts who can get this petition reviewed by the proper people.
A two-pronged approach is necessary to restore suction dredging; federal preemption needs to be established as addressed above via petition; and clarification from the EPA is needed to establish that no Section 402 permit is necessary when there is no “addition” of a pollutant.
Is there any hope for a solution? Yes, there is, and we’ve been working with Public Lands for the People, the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council, attorney James Buchal and others on that solution.
This is the third trip MMAC has made to DC this year, so some of the congressional staff members are gaining a better understanding of the current problems miners face and how MMAC-assisted Mining Districts can alleviate those problems.
Most of the mining opposition today is centered around the small-scale miner. These miners number in the thousands and come from every walk of life.
Minerals and Mining Advisory Council (MMAC) founder Joe Martori met with Jim Scrivner, the Bureau of Land Management Deputy State Director of Energy and Minerals in Sacramento, California...
Pearson called the trip, “The most productive so far. We are courting over a dozen potential sponsors now. We had some members call us back for additional meetings and several of these lasted over an hour.”
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