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New Critical Minerals Proposal from the Western Caucus -- On the Right Track, But an Incomplete Solution

May 28, 2020

by Scott Harn, Editor/Publisher, ICMJs Prospecting and Mining Journal

The Western Caucus introduced today (5/28/2020) the American Critical Mineral Exploration and Innovation Act of 2020.  While I applaud their efforts to get a handle on critical minerals mining, production and supplies, the proposal falls far shy of introducing real solutions to the many problems America faces as it tries to create a critical minerals supply chain.

First, the hightlights of the American Critical Mineral Exploration and Innovation Act of 2020:

Section 301 requires the Secretary of Interior or Secretary of Agriculture to review mineral assessments provided by the USGS before implementing a mineral withdrawal or finalizing a new or updated Resource Management Plan and to consider the economic, strategic and national security value of mineral deposits in the impacted area.

Section 302 prohibits the Secretary of Interior from imposing a moratorium on the mining of critical minerals on federally administered lands or waters without approval from Congress and limits acreage.

Both of these proposed changes are outstanding and have been needed for decades.

The lowlights:

Access problems are not addressed. There is no access to tens of millions of acres of BLM and Forest Service lands and miners cannot mine without access. Forest Service Travel Management Plans and current Resource Management Plans have restricted motorized access. Locating new potential deposits of critical minerals can be expedited by exploration companies and small-scale miners if access is reopened.

Regulatory duplication and certainty are not addressed. Many states (i.e. California, Oregon, Washington) do everything within their regulatory power to prohibit mining. Federal permits no longer provide certainty. Miners need a choice; they must be able to choose state or federal regulations, but not both. Those who operate in Nevada or Alaska who are happy with their regulatory system can choose to stay within that system.

Suction gold dredgers are a huge untapped resource that is not utilized with this proposal. Suction dredgers recover heavy black sands in their concentrates. Through the process of weathering and erosion, these heavy black sands find their way from the deposit into their recovery systems in our rivers and streams. There needs to be a federally-run department where these miners can send in their heavy blacks sands for testing in order to locate new critical mineral deposits. This will provide a map to these previously unknown deposits.

Fix the small miner exemption. Setting the small miner exemption at 1,000 cubic yards or five acres – which is supported by the American Mining and Exploration Association – would allow miners to make these discoveries free of the extreme regulatory hurdles now in place and jump start exploration and discovery of critical minerals.

I've met with with staff members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, US Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and the EPA—even with staff at the Pentagon—over these issues. We all agreed that China's monopoly on critical minerals is going to be utilized against America, and sooner rather than later.  Communist China has already used tariffs to their advantage and there will come a time when America is completely cut off from these crucial supplies. 

I met with the former legislative director in Congressman Gosar's office at least a half-dozen times over the past four years, and with Gosar himself on several of those occasions. I applaud his efforts, but those efforts are not currently close to providing a comprehensive solution.

We will not break free from China’s stranglehold until some serious changes are made. No amount of studying will fix these issues; significant regulatory changes must be made now. America has severely underestimated what China will do to harm US interests, and time is critical.

I look forward to working with Congressman Gosar and the Western Caucus to enact some positive changes to jumpstart American production of critical minerals.

While I applaud this recent effort, is comes up far short of the goal of critical mineral independance from Communist China.

All of the recommendations made above and a few more were presented to Congressman Gosar and the Western Caucus. You'll find them here, in "Critical Minerals: Breaking China's Grip on American Mining and Production Through The NDAA."

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