Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents the northern half of rural Nevada, recently introduced a bill in Congress intended to force the federal land agencies to get into gear, setting the total review process for issuing mining permits at 30 months tops.
Currently, according to The Wall Street Journal, permitting a mine on federal land takes seven to 10 years or longer — the longest permitting period of any nation on earth.
Amodei’s H.R. 1937, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2015, already has 29 sponsors. The Nevada congressman said his legislation is intended to reduce American dependence on foreign minerals, many of which are vital to industry and the military, but currently are being imported from countries such as China.
“It’s not hyperbole to say our national defense and way of life depend on mineral production,” said Amodei in a press release heralding the bill. “From military technology, such as aircraft and missiles used by service men and women to defend our country, to the cars, smartphones and televisions we use every day, they all contain strategic and critical minerals such as rare earth elements, gold and silver, to name a few.”
Amodei blames the permitting delays on duplicative regulations, bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of coordination between federal agencies.
Nevada is rich in minerals — gold, copper, lithium, molybdenum, gypsum, etc.
“Permitting delays stand in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local, often rural, communities,” Amodei said. “This legislation does nothing to circumvent environmental regulations or public input. It would simply streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic, national security and environmental concerns.”
Delays in permitting have tremendous impact on the state’s economy. Mining directly employs more than 11,000 people and another 14,000 jobs provide goods and services to the industry. The average wage is nearly $90,000, double the statewide average wage. The industry pays more than $400 million in state and local taxes.
Amodei’s bill also addresses the fact that environmental groups frequently file frivolous legal challenges to mining operations. The bill sets a 60-day time limit to file a legal challenge to a mining project, gives standing to project proponents, and limits injunctive relief to what is necessary to correct the violation of a legal requirement, and prohibits the payment of attorney’s fees, expenses and other costs by the U.S. taxpayer.
“While few countries can rival our abundance of mineral resources, even fewer have a permitting system as inefficient as the U.S.,” National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn said about the bill. “Our inefficient and duplicative permitting process discourages investment and jeopardizes the growth of downstream industries, related jobs and technological innovation that all depend on a secure and reliable mineral supply chain.”
Amodei’s bill is similar to a bill the House passed in the previous session of Congress. It went nowhere in the Harry Reid-controlled Senate.
We urge our Washington delegation to press for passage of the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2015 for the sake of our strategic defenses, our manufacturing industries and the economic well-being of Nevada and the West. Perhaps Sen. Dean Heller can shepherd the bill in the Senate.
A version of this editorial appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record.