Press Release: Department of Commerce Recommends Significant Reforms for Minerals Permitting

Posted on June 04, 2019 by Minerals Make Life

For Immediate Release

Contact:

Conor Bernstein
(202) 463-2620
cbernstein@nma.org

June 4, 2019

Department of Commerce Recommends Significant Reforms for Minerals Permitting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Mining Association (NMA) today applauded the recommendations of a new U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) report which aim to ensure a reliable supply of minerals in the U.S. The report is the culmination of months of collaborative work with various U.S. agencies in response to Executive Order (EO) 13817, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”

“The report’s recommendations show an important and encouraging recognition that minerals play a vital role in our economy and that we can and will do better when it comes to minerals permitting,” said Hal Quinn, NMA president and CEO. “For too long, U.S. mining has been hampered by a complex and fractured permitting process that has stretched approval timelines to a decade, compared with just two to three years in other countries with environmental standards as stringent as ours. The steps outlined in this report will go a long way in unlocking the value of all our domestic mineral resources while continuing strict environmental protections.”

While the report specifically mentions critical minerals, it also notes that any recommendations to improve permitting processes for critical minerals will improve permitting processes for all minerals administered by federal land management agencies.

The Facts about Permitting Delays and Import Dependence

The U.S. government’s process for securing the necessary mine permits now takes close to 10 years – one of the longest mine permitting processes in the world. By comparison, permitting processes in Australia and Canada, which have similar environmental standards and practices as the U.S., take between two and three years. These permitting delays have been called the most significant risk to mining projects in the United States.

Despite being home to reserves estimated at $6.2 trillion, cumbersome permitting processes contribute to the U.S. importing $5 billion in minerals from foreign countries each year. We remain import dependent for 18 key minerals resources and more than 50 percent import-dependent for an additional 30 mineral commodities used in everyday manufacturing and defense applications. Less than half of the minerals U.S. manufacturers need are sourced domestically, despite the nation’s abundant mineral endowment.

Key Recommendations from the Report

The DOC collected input from agencies including the Department of Interior, the Department of Defense and others, and recommended a number of key reforms that, together, will help to minimize permitting delays and raise awareness about the strategic importance of minerals to our country’s economy and national security. Recommendations include: improving access to domestic critical mineral resources on federal lands and reducing federal permitting timeframes; consideration of mining under projects covered by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST-41); encouraging and incentivizing U.S. private industry investment and innovation in developing, expanding, modernizing and sustaining capabilities and industrial-scale capacity throughout the supply chain; among other specifics.

Specific examples of processes that industry believes could be streamlined or improved to increase access to domestic critical mineral resources include:

  • Avoiding duplicative reviews: the lead agency shall defer to and rely on baseline data, analyses and reviews performed by state agencies with jurisdiction over the proposed project.
  • Concurrent reviews: federal agencies should conduct any consultations or reviews concurrently rather than sequentially to expedite the process.
  • Establish timelines for each major step of the process including: scoping of the analysis; baseline studies required under applicable law and use of existing studies already conducted for state or federal authorizations; draft EIS or similar analysis under NEPA; submission and review of public and agency comments; publication of any required public notices; and final decisions.
  • Directives clearly setting forth that the permitting agency is not required to consider or respond to comments received after the close of any comment period.
  • Encourage use of Memorandums of Agreement between the agencies and project proponents that will set goals and timelines for each step of the process.

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