Mining, Mapping, Soils and Other Surface/Subsurface Issues (8/2/12)
Mining, mapping, surveying and the management of public lands are controlled by the federal government, federal laws and federal regulations to varying degrees. Mining is primarily conducted by private industry in the U.S., but mining on public lands must satisfy federal laws and regulations. Geologic and other types of mapping and surveying are fundamental to the geosciences and to the management of natural resources. The U.S. Geological Survey, state geological surveys, institutions of higher education and industry are the primary groups that prepare and archive these maps. The Department of the Interior manages U.S. public lands and works to preserve the natural resources that lie within in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service and National Resources Conservation Service.
In the 111th Congress, federal mining policy was dominated by concerns over shortages of rare earth elements (REE’s). The Senate and the House introduced bills to jump start a dormant U.S. industry as the Chinese began to restrict exports, but none of these bills reached the President’s desk. In the 112th Congress, similar bills will likely be introduced, but crafting viable legislation may be difficult, as some measures involve federal intervention into the mining industry.
This page is dedicated to federal government action and congressional hearings associated with a variety of surface and subsurface land issues including: mining, geologic mapping, forestry, and other public land management and preservation topics.
Some of AGI's member societies have issued their own position statements on public lands and land use issues.
Large Transportation Authorization Bill Presented to Obama (07/12)
After nearly two months of negotiations, a comprehensive bill to reauthorize the federal government’s surface transportation programs and the National Flood Insurance Program passed the House and Senate on June 29 and was sent to the President on July 2. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21, H.R. 4348) contains a provision that 80 percent of the penalties paid under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1321) as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill will be deposited in a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The fund is meant to support the economic and environmental restoration of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
As part of the new law, a Technical Mapping Advisory Committee is established to advise the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with recommendations to improve the accuracy and dissemination of flood maps, develop mapping standards and guidelines for data accuracy and quality, and submit a funding strategy to leverage and coordinate budgets across federal agencies.
The law was originally introduced on April 16 by Chairman John Mica (R-FL) of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and by the end of the month a conference was formed to resolve the language differences between Mica’s original transportation reauthorization bill and Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21, S. 1813). The House and Senate passed the conference report on June 29.
House of Representatives Passes Critical Minerals Bill (07/12)
On July 12, the House of Representatives passed the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 (H.R.4402). The bill’s supporters claim it would streamline regulations and increase agency cooperation to strengthen the domestic mining industry.
As of 2010, the U.S. imports 17 critical minerals including rare earths and thorium. Critical minerals are defined as being necessary for vital technology such as missile defense systems, wind turbines and catalytic converters and whose supplies are not subject to U.S. control.
The author of H.R.4402, Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV), asserts that these minerals could be produced in the U.S. if permitting regulation is curbed. He made the case on the House floor that Australian and Canadian mining operations are subject to environmental protections similar to those in the U.S., but their permitting process takes less than two years, while it can take more than seven years in the U.S. Amodei argued that bureaucratic restrictions in the permitting process are depriving the U.S. of high paying jobs and a domestic supply of critical minerals.
Opponents claim H.R.4402 is meant to reduce environmental protection in the mining industry. Other critical minerals bills plan to support the industry by creating inter-agency groups to monitor the global supply chain or research U.S. deposits and mineral processing techniques. This bill primarily deals with relaxing permit regulations for companies attempting to mine critical minerals. While H.R. 4402 was able to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, it will unlikely pass through a Democratic Senate.
Domestic Energy Bill Introduced in Senate, Includes Critical Minerals Language (07/12)
On July 26, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) announced the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act of 2012 (DEJA) in the Senate. This bill would put policy in place to reduce energy costs and create jobs within the energy sector. It incorporates language from Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011 (S.1113) directing the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to evaluate domestic mineral deposits and find sources of critical materials. DEJA would approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, limit regulations of the coal mining industry and make more land available for oil and gas leasing. The bill has not yet been introduced though it is already supported by Senator Murkowski and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
A House of Representatives version of DEJA was announced by Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). It is unlikely DEJA will pass the Democratic Senate, however the bipartisan collaboration between Senator Murkowski and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) suggests hope for S.1113.
New Million-Scale Digital Map Data Program led by USGS (07/12)
On July 24, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) introduced the National Atlas of the United States of America, a comprehensive, digital cartographic system to make maps easily accessible and internationally compatible. The one million-scale maps, where one inch on the map is equivalent to about 16 miles, have twice the resolution of previous versions.
National Atlas is modeled to make geographic information easier to find, get, and use. Digital maps of national, state, and country boundaries, transportation infrastructure, surface waters, and cities and towns can now be easily found on-line through data portals such as data.gov or nationalatlas.gov. Future map themes will include Federal and Native American lands, Congressional districts, and U.S. statistical areas. Data can be downloaded free of charge and easily used with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or desktop mapping software. In addition, the National Atlas has connected map features along the U.S. borders with national mapping programs in Canada and Mexico, and now meets the Global Map specifications. Global Map is an international mapping coalition with the goal to create an integrated, million scale map of the world.
Critical Minerals From the Sea Panel (07/12)
Moderator: Stephen Cheney, CEO, American Security Project
Caitlyn Antrim, Director, Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans
Miles Libbey, SeaMinr
James Hein, U.S. Geological Survey
On July 17, the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, a group dedicated to U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS), held a panel discussion on critical seabed minerals. LOS is a treaty which protects freedom of navigation and research on the high seas, and contains procedure for companies to obtain leases from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to explore and mine deep seabed mineral deposits in international waters. These critical minerals contain metals like copper, cobalt and rare earth elements which are essential to production of electronic technology essential to clean energy, national security, health, industry and communication.
The panel was moderated by Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) and CEO of the American Security Project, a think-tank studying national security issues. Cheney explained that metals found in critical minerals are used in missile defense systems and the U.S. imports many of them from foreign countries. He said the U.S. imports all of its cobalt and rare earth elements from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and China, respectively. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodities Summaries show that while the Congo is the main source of raw cobalt, it is processed and imported to the U.S. by China and Norway. Cheney also welcomed former Senator John Warner (R-VA) who served as the U.S. Secretary of the Navy for 4 years and as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services for 8 years.
James Hein of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at Menlo Park began the discussion with an explanation of the geology of deep seabed minerals and the importance of the metals found within them. He said critical metals are more concentrated in ferromanganese crusts and nodules and massive sulfide deposits on the deep seabed than most on-land mineral deposits. Ferromanganese crusts and nodules absorb trace metals from ocean water for tens of millions of year as they lie on the ocean floor.
Hein outlined the “drivers” which make deep seabed mining essential for society. He explained that all “super and smart” technologies require rare metals, but the overwhelming majority of people do not realize this. Hein said the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), an area south of Hawaii which is being leased to companies by the ISA, contains more manganese, nickel, cobalt, yttrium and tellurium than is on all the continents. There are also more rare earth elements in the CCZ than in the Mountain Pass Mine, a rare earth element mine recently reopened in California to reduce foreign dependence on rare earths.
Miles Libbey of SeaMinr discussed the business and logistics of deep seabed “harvesting.” He emphasized the distinction between harvesting and mining comes from the simplicity of lifting nodules off the seabed rather than having to drill into the crust. He said he was excited to witness advances in robotics, mapping and drilling leading to the “very early stages of a new industry.” Libbey suggested the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) take the “first step” and demonstrate deep seabed harvesting within the U.S. EEZ. This would inspire businesses and convince them of the operation’s low risk and sizeable profit.
Caitlyn Antrim, director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans, discussed the history of U.S. opposition to LOS. She said President Ronald Reagan supported deep seabed harvesting, but would not sign to LOS ratification because it mandated a technology transfer of mining technology to developing countries. He pledged U.S. support once the technology transfer section in Article XI of the convention was removed and required federal agencies to follow the other provisions of LOS. Antrim said members of his administration have called for ratification of the convention since 1994 when Article XI was revised to meet Reagan's requirements.
Antrim said as countries like China, India and Brazil become more developed, metals like copper, nickel and cobalt will be in short supply. She cited a USGS study which found that as countries build an electronic infrastructure they first need large quantities of copper, then nickel and manganese for industrial growth and cobalt and rare earths when they produce consumer products. The U.S. is in the cobalt and rare earth “stage” and these metals are already in short supply, once other countries begin making consumer products the demand will skyrocket.
She praised the organization of the ISA, saying it is “on its way” to being one of the better-run international organizations. Antrim said the ISA environmental regulations for deep seabed mining are very close to those of NOAA through the Deep Seabed Hard Minerals Act, but because the authority is much smaller there is “somewhat less bureaucracy.”
A guest at the panel asked about the environmental risks of deep seabed mining. Libbey said there are no “earth-shaking” effects. Hein agreed explaining the potential hazards are from sediment plumes burying benthic organisms or small amounts of trace metal particles being released into the ocean and absorbed by organisms. He and Libbey believed these problems would be “engineered out” before mining took place.
Warner recommended that industry play a greater role in promoting deep seabed mining. Even though there are significant national security benefits, he said the greatest advantage of deep seabed mining is the creation of jobs and increased U.S. exportation and energy independence.
More information on the panel can be found at the American Security Project web site for the event.
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House Natural Resources Committee Marks Up Mineral and Energy Bills (05/12)
On May 16, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a full committee mark up to vote on the Soda Ash Royalty Extension, Job Creation, and Export Enhancement Act of 2011 (H.R. 1192), the Native American Energy Act (H.R. 3973), the Planning for American Energy Act of 2012 (H.R. 4381), the Providing Leasing Certainty for American Energy Act of 2012 (H.R. 4382), the Streamlining Permitting of American Energy Act of 2012 (H.R. 4383), and the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4402). All six bills were passed by the committee.
H.R. 1192 would extend the current reduced royalty rate of 2 percent for the development of soda ash through October, 2016. An amendment offered by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) to require the Secretary of the Interior to show that the reduced royalty rate will result in increased production of soda ash and increase employment was not agreed to.
H.R. 3973, offered by Representative Don Young (R-AK), contains many provisions meant to reduce federal regulations of energy production on Indian lands. It would amend the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (P.L. 91-190) to only allow the affected Indian tribe to comment on the environmental impact statements of federal actions on Indian lands and would eliminate any fees for oil and gas inspection activities and leasing for non-producing acreage on Indian land. The bill would create five Indian Energy Development Offices within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to carry out Indian energy resource development programs. An amendment to exempt Indian lands from any hydraulic fracturing rules developed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) was agreed to.
H.R. 4381, introduced by Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO), would require DOI to complete a Strategic Federal Onshore Energy Production Strategy every four years for an “all of the above” energy production plan on lands held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. The bill was agreed to by a roll call vote.
Introduced by Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO), H.R. 4382 would require the Secretary of the Interior to offer as part of a lease sale “no less than 25 percent of the annual nominated acreage not previously made available for lease.” H.R. 4383, introduced by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO), would require DOI to permit or deny an application for drilling within 30 days of submission and would establish Federal Permit Streamlining Projects in every Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office. Both bills were passed by the committee by a roll call vote.
H.R. 4402, introduced by Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) would characterize all mines that “will provide strategic and critical minerals” to be considered an “infrastructure project” as defined by an Executive Order (EO) issued in March 2012. In the EO, all infrastructure projects deemed regionally and nationally significant will be reviewed by a Steering Committee of multiple federal agencies in an effort to reduce the amount of time it takes to make permitting decisions. The bill would designate the federal agency responsible for issuing a mineral exploration or mine permit as the lead agency and require that agency to coordinate and consult with other permitting agencies to minimize permitting delays. A failed amendment offered by Tonko would have redefined the bill’s definition of “strategic and critical minerals” from any mineral necessary for national defense, energy infrastructure, domestic manufacturing, and economic security to the lanthanides group, yttrium, scandium, and “any other mineral that is critical based on the impact of a potential supply restriction and the likelihood of a supply restriction.” The bill was passed by the committee on a roll call vote.
Senators Introduce Bipartisan Helium Stewardship Bill (04/12)
Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation to deal with helium supplies and demands. The Helium Stewardship Act of 2012 (S. 2374) would amend the Helium Act “to ensure the expedient and responsible draw-down of the Federal Helium Reserve in a manner that protects the interests of private industry, the scientific, medical, and industrial communities, commercial users, and Federal agencies, and for other purposes.”
The measure would setup sales of helium from the Cliffside Field helium storage reservoir and some proceeds of the sales shall go to the maintenance of the reservoir. A helium gas resource assessment would be initiated in coordination with the state geological surveys and the Department of Energy would initiate research and development programs for helium gas separation, helium gas conservation and helium-3 separation. Senators Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) signed on as co-sponsors when the legislation was introduced.
Natural Resources Committee Holds Hearings on Minerals Bills, Mapping Bill (04/12)
The House Committee on Natural Resources held hearings in April on the Map it Once, Use it Many Times Act (H.R. 4233), the Federal Land Asset Inventory Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 1620), the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4402), and the Soda Ash Royalty Extension, Job Creation, and Export Enhancement Act of 2011 (H.R. 1192).
H.R. 4233 would establish a National Geospatial Technology Administration within the U.S. Geological Survey while H.R. 1620 would require the Department of the Interior to set up a multi-purpose cadastre of federal real estate property. In theory, organizing data within the federal government should promote efficiencies and data access, however, in practice both measures call for the private sector to play a primary role, which may defeat data accessibility.
H.R. 4233 would promote the transfer of accumulating, managing, and storing geospatial data that is now performed by the government to the private sector. The bill would establish a National Geospatial Policy Commission to craft a National Geospatial Data Plan and would direct the administrator of the National Geospatial Technology Administration to develop a Geospatial Research Plan to direct federal investment in geospatial research and development. The committee held a hearing on the bill in Colorado Springs, Colorado on May 3. Steve Jennings, a member of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), a member society of the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), was present to provide testimony and answer questions from committee members. Jennings’s testimony was endorsed by AAG and AGI.
H.R. 4402, introduced by Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV), defines strategic and critical minerals as minerals necessary for national defense, the nation’s energy infrastructure, to support domestic manufacturing, and for the nation’s economic security. Any mine that could provide strategic and critical minerals “shall be considered an ‘infrastructure project’ as described by a March 22 Presidential Order. It would limit the total review process for mining permits to a maximum of 30 months unless signatories agree to an extension. H.R. 1192 would extend a reduced royalty rate of 2% for the development of soda ash, which expired in 2011, through October of 2016. The Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on H.R. 4402 and H.R. 1192 on April 26.
U.S. Forest Service Finalizes Planning Rule (03/12)
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1604) governs the land management plans for every national forest or grassland managed by the Forest Service and requires that land management plans must be revised no later than every 15 years. The Forest Service finalized the 2012 Planning Rule, the process of developing and revising the management plans, in March 2012.
The final planning rule was developed after more than two and a half years of public input, including more than 300,000 public comments. The final planning rule will require management plans to include components to maintain and restore ecosystem and watershed health and resilience; protect water, air, and soil resources; provide for plant and animal diversity; provide for sustainable recreation; and address water quality and riparian area protection and restoration. The final planning rule creates a new two-tiered strategy for monitoring at the unit level and on a broader scale. This new approach is designed to allow land managers to track changing conditions and measure management implementation effectiveness. The Forest Service will begin implementing the new rule to develop, revise, and amend plans 30 days after it was published in the Federal Register.
Review of MSHA Actions Prior to Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster (03/12)
On March 6, 2012 the United States Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released aninternal review of the actions taken by MSHA before the 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. On April 5, 2010, a coal dust explosion ignited by a smaller methane explosion killed 29 miners.
The purpose of the report entitled “Internal Review of MSHA’s Actions at the Upper Big Branch Mine-South Performance Coal Company Montcoal, Raleigh County, West Virginia” was to review the actions by the agency before the explosion and to provide recommendations for future action. The review involved interviews with 90 past or present employees of MSHA and analyzed 12,500 pages of documents. The report identifies areas where inspection and plan approval processes were improperly administered, the factors that led to these missteps, and actions that have been put into place since the disaster.
Mining Societies Complete Workforce Trend Report (03/12)
The Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME), the National Mining Association (NMA), the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA), and the Industrial Minerals Association – North America (IMA-NA) have collaborated on a report evaluating mining workforce trends for the next twenty years.
The report, entitled “Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Mining Industry” was compiled using information provided by the participating societies. It identified the mining industry as one of the few that is adding long term and well paying jobs in the United States. Although only making up less than one quarter of one percent of total U.S. job market, the mining industry can be directly attributed with contributing to 13 to 14 percent of the U.S. job market. This report concluded that the mining industry will continue to grow at a constant rate over the next 20 years, adding 11,000-13,000 jobs annually to meet the growing resource demand and to compensate for a large number of retirements. Ominously, the report concludes that the U.S. lacks an up and coming skilled workforce to match this job growth and the skilled domestic workforce that does exist may be lured away to other countries with higher wages.
United States and Canada Complete Joint Seafloor Survey in Arctic (12/11)
After spending nearly six weeks in August and September in the Arctic, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent have returned to port marking the completion of a five-year joint effort between the United States and Canada to collect scientific data to delineate the extended continental shelf (ECS). This joint effort was undertaken to leverage the costs required to collect the data needed to delineate the boundary between Canada and the U.S. and to determine the extent of the continental shelf in relation to the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS) was adopted by the international community in 1994 as a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and seafloor. The treaty establishes “exclusive economic zones” in which a coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources within 200 nautical miles of a defined baseline. The natural resources extend from fishing and wave energy in the ocean column to oil, natural gas, gas hydrates, and mineral resources below the seafloor. The United States Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, led by the Department of State, is responsible for delineating the U.S. ECS. Geoscientists will be analyzing the data to develop accurate estimates of the extent of the U.S. ECS. Canada and the U.S. have ongoing disputes about national boundaries beyond their coastlines in the Arctic Ocean.
Healy collected bathymetric data through the use of a multibeam echo sounder while scientists aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent collected seismic data to determine the thickness of sediments under the seafloor and to better characterize the geology of the Arctic Ocean seafloor. Other scientific missions took place during the six week cruise including the collection of baseline data on ocean acidification by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
More U.S. missions led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and USGS have taken place and are planned to further delineate the U.S. ECS in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bering Sea.
Department of Energy Updates Critical Materials Strategy (12/11)
On December 22, the Department of Energy (DOE) released its 2011 Critical Materials Strategy to update the 2010 report and present new criticality assessments, market and technology analyses, and review DOE activities in 2011 with regards to critical materials. DOE found that several clean energy technologies risk facing a materials supply disruption in the short term. The risks generally decline in the medium to long term time range. Supply challenges for dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium, and yttrium, all rare earth elements, are expected to affect clean energy deployment “in the years ahead,” according to DOE’s findings.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2055) provided $20 million for the Energy Innovation Hub for Critical Materials. The three aspects of DOE’s critical materials policy remain: 1. Diversify supply, 2. Develop substitutes, and 3. Improve recycling and efficient use.
China maintains that it will keep export quotas of rare earths in 2012 equal to those in 2011. Beijing set an export quota of 30,184 tons in 2011 after a slightly higher quota in 2010 of 30, 258 tons. The Chinese government is growing more concerned about environmental degradation related to rare earth element extraction and processing and has not yet approved production levels for China’s largest producers because of environmental assessments. The environmental hurdles mean that quotas remain uncertain regardless of government statements and industries throughout the world that need rare earths remain uneasy about Chinese supplies.
Three Reports on Virginia Uranium Deposit; Public Remains Divided (12/11)
The environmental and economic impacts of producing the 119 million pound uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County, Virginia are the focus of three reports released in December, 2011. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports in Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety, and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia that if the state were to lift the moratorium, it faces “steep hurdles” before mining and processing could be done appropriately enough to protect workers, the public, and the environment mostly because the state has no experience regulating the mining and processing of any radioactive element. The Fairfax County Water Authority’s board of directors released their own study on the potential impact of uranium mining and milling on watersheds. Their report, written by Tetra Tech, Inc. and Hazen and Sawyer P.C., concluded that “uranium mining and milling represent unique risks that require additional process controls to prevent impacts from toxic and radioactive byproducts” and called for a “conservative and precautious approach.” The Danville Regional Foundation of Danville, Virginia released an additional study conducted by RTI International which estimated the potential economic impacts to account for the immediate creation of “559 to 1,008 jobs” for construction and capital equipment purchase and for the long-term creation of “385 to 889 jobs.” RTI International detailed the potential environmental risks and recommended “appropriate investments should be made in design, pollution control technologies, and regulatory development and implementation.”
A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University from December 13-19 among 1,135 registered voters found that 43 percent said mining should be allowed because of the economic benefits, while 41 percent oppose it based on environmental concerns.
Markey Introduces Energy and Mineral Extraction Reform Bill (11/11)
Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) and House Democrats from the Committee on Natural Resources have introduced the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act (H.R. 3446) that would reform rules from the General Mining Act of 1872 (30 U.S.C. 22 et seq.) on public lands. Its main sponsors are Markey, Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
The legislation would institute a 12.5 percent royalty on hard rock mining for materials like gold, silver, and uranium; the President suggested no less than a five percent royalty. With a seven cent-per-ton fee for all materials displaced during hard rock mining, the bill would make it easier to block mining on public lands. The money collected as a result of the fee would pay for the reclamation of the hard rock mines. The bill would increase inspection fees for offshore drilling, remove revenue sharing with the Gulf States for oil and gas production, and would require energy companies to renegotiate their oil and gas leases. Coal companies would be restricted from sending money to states that have completed reclamation of abandoned coal mines. The mining industry is not in support of the proposal.
Representative Coffman Forms Congressional Rare Earth Caucus (11/11)
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) has announced the creation of a congressional Rare Earth Caucus for domestic rare earth mineral exploration, production, and growing industries. This move was encouraged by the Association of Rare Earths (RARE), a new group who sent a letter to Congress in October requesting such a caucus. Chinese control over seventeen major rare earth minerals has sparked a frenzy to boost domestic production and restart U.S. mining projects. The caucus, which has bipartisan support and membership, will help increase awareness of the issue and set policies to boost related industries that have proliferated overseas.
BOEM Releases Proposed 2012-2017 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program (11/11)
On November 8, 2011 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its proposed 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and its accompanying draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The five year leasing program consists of a schedule of oil and gas lease sales and sets out the size and locations of proposed leasing activity to meet the nation’s energy needs for the next five years. This proposed 2012-2017 program would make 15 plots available in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico, the Chukchi Sea, the Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet in Alaska. The proposal does not include lease sales on the Atlantic or the Pacific Oceans outer continental shelf. Most of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico remains in a congressionally-mandated moratorium and is not included in the proposed plan for 2012-2017. BOEM plans to conduct environmental analyses for potential seismic studies in the Mid- and South Atlantic but will not schedule leases there until at least mid-2017.
Federal Geographic Data Committee Unveils Geospatial Web Platform (11/11)
On November 9, 2011, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), an interagency committee established in 1990, unveiled its prototype Geospatial Web Platform, open to public and government use. The web site combines user-friendly map-based data and tools with the latest internet technologies to deliver geospatial information. The official launch of the Geospatial Platform improves the availability and usability of geospatial information from all federal agencies.
On the web site, users can create their own maps utilizing the web site’s data as well as their own data brought to the platform, without any software download requirements. Users can also collaborate in public or private groups through the platform, giving them the ability to share data.
This project brought together the efforts of many related agencies. The FGDC is composed of representatives from the Executive Office of the President, and cabinet level and independent federal agencies including the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In conjunction with feedback from stakeholders and experts, FGDC will collaborate with its partners to continuously expand the content and resources available through the site.
Kentucky Unveils Most Detailed State Geologic Map Series in United States (11/11)
Through a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, the Kentucky Geological Survey has published all 26 geologic maps in its series in a 30 by 60 minute scale. The Kentucky Geological Survey will make these maps freely available to the public online, with an application for electronic devices, and through printed hard copies.
Geologic maps can show surface and subsurface rock types, formations, and structures and are a tremendous economic and recreational contribution to society. Information provided by geologic maps assists in the production of resources, protection of groundwater and the environment, stability of foundations and infrastructure, and avoidance of hazards. The Kentucky Geological Survey has found that its geologic maps value at $2.25 - $3.35 billion in 1999 U.S. dollars.
House Passes Arizona Copper Mine Bill (10/11)
On October 26, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 1904) to exchange roughly 2,400 acres of federal land that includes a large undeveloped copper deposit to Resolution Copper Company in exchange for 5,300 acres of company property. Titled the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011, the bill was introduced by Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in May. A series of amendments offered by Democrats Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), John Garamendi (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) to require royalties, to exempt certain American Indian sacred and cultural sites from the transfer, to stipulate the use of U.S.-made equipment, and to obligate that the product is processed domestically were rejected.
Salazar Plans to Move Mining Office into BLM (10/11)
On October 26, 2011 Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar issued a Secretarial Order that will incorporate the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This effort seeks to further strengthen the bureaus’ mining regulations and abandoned mine land reclamation programs. The order will become effective on December 2, 2011 following consultation with the White House Office of Management and Budget, employees, and related congressional committees with responsibilities over these functions. According to the Order, Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes must work with OSM and BLM to develop a schedule, by March 1, 2012, to improve strategies in four primary areas: administrative support functions, environmental restoration of abandoned mine lands, fee collections, and the regulation, inspection and enforcement and state program oversight.
Pentagon Report Comments on the Future of Rare Earth Minerals (10/11)
The Department of Defense (DOD) recently released its Annual Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress, which comments on the future of America’s role in the rare earth minerals market. The report deemed it “essential” for the Pentagon to establish non-Chinese sources of rare earth minerals. Although China has recently lowered export quotas, making access to these resources more difficult and raising rare earth mineral prices, analysts believe that the U.S. could increase its production of rare earths and become resource independent from China.
Molycorp Inc., the leading producer of rare earth minerals in the U.S., has recently announced its goal to explore for heavy rare earth elements in hopes of meeting global demand. The report recommends that the Pentagon open a line of communication with Molycorp and other companies about DOD assistance plans and possible “special authorities” for developing defense-critical industries.
Though DOD’s use of rare earth minerals is a much smaller percentage than civilian use, the report suggests the Pentagon establish a communications plan with the commercial industry to ensure prioritization lest a shortage occur. The Pentagon has been advised to develop risk mitigation strategies for heavier rare earth elements and better understand its overall mineral needs.
USGS Mineral Resource Assessment in Afghanistan Made Public (09/11)
Developed jointly by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Afghan Geological Survey, and the Department of Defense (DOD), the results of the Afghan Mineral Study were released in September. Though Afghanistan’s mineral wealth had been characterized before by the USGS in a 2007 report, this research comes from a 2009-2011 study which relied heavily on airborne hyperspectral analysis which produces highly detailed 3-D profiles. The USGS studied 24 areas including the large copper and cobalt deposit near Kabul, the iron-rich areas in central Afghanistan, the copper and gold deposits in the Southeast, and the rare earth deposits in the Helmand Province. The study was funded by the DOD Task Force for Business and Stability Operations.
National Park Service Publishes 100-year Anniversary Action Plan (09/11)
The National Park Service (NPS) has published its “Director’s Call to Action,” a report to celebrate its upcoming 100-year anniversary in 2016. The report is designed to prepare NPS employees and partners for “a second century of stewardship and engagement” by detailing specific goals and actions that chart a new direction for the NPS. These include promoting the contributions that national parks and community assistance programs make to create jobs, strengthen local economies, and support ecosystem services.
U.N. Creates Global Soil Partnership (09/11)
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is launching a Global Soil Partnership (GSP) to be led by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. Due to an increase in land degradation and pressure on the world’s soil resources, the GSP is intended to renew an international effort to assure sufficient fertile and healthy soils and to reduce a threat to global security.
The FAO’s 1982 World Soil Charter originally laid out the principles and guidelines for sustainable soil management and soil protection for governments, but there have been delays in implementing the goals of the charter. The GSP hopes to implement the charter provisions, raise awareness, and motivate action by decision makers.
Ohio Geological Survey in Danger (09/11)
The Ohio Geological Survey (OGS), which provides the state with critical information regarding its natural resources, is at risk of becoming extinct. Ohio currently relies on OGS for geologic records and samples, information for infrastructure development, support for research for the state’s regulatory agencies, and information to reduce risks from hazards. OGS has lost its entire general-fund revenue budget and is down to 23 employees from 50. If OGS is lost then the state will also lose matching federal grant money that supports jobs and work within the state. A recent study conducted by Kleinhenz & Associates estimates that the products, services, and data provided by OGS contributed about $575 million to the Ohio economy in 2010. In addition to these potential losses, the elimination of OGS would result in an increase of $1.5 billion in project costs.
Virginia Environmental NGO Releases Report on Coles Hill Uranium Deposit (09/11)
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League is calling for additional water studies at the Coles Hill uranium deposit in southern Virginia before legislators vote on lifting the mining moratorium. The environmental group released a report on September 26 that documented historical flooding trends at the uranium mining site which, if developed, could increase the risk of radioactive contamination in the water system. The report details historical flood zone areas and maps out the mining site’s hydrologic connection to Mill Creek, Whitethorn Creek and the Banister River.
Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) would like to mine the 119 pound deposit should the moratorium be lifted. VUI CEO Walter Coles, Sr. said that the exploration sites were not located in flood zones, nor will the mine, mill, or waste be located there. Coles has added that the ore body is located well above the flood plain and the company is willing to perform any regulatory studies that Virginia legislators require. Though he is aware that many people in Southside, VA need jobs, Coles said he would abort the project if the National Academy of Sciences report, due in December, deems uranium mining in Virginia unsafe.
Congress Asks Pentagon for Late Rare Earth Report (08/11)
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) and eight other bipartisan members submitted a letter to the Department of Defense (DOD) requesting information about the Pentagon’s failure to submit a rare earths-related report, originally due July 6, 2011. The report is part of an effort by Congress to gain a better understanding on the current supply-chain of rare earth elements. DOD is obligated under Section 843 of the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (P.L. 111-383) to submit an assessment report. In the letter, Coffman states his frustration about the lack of a report and the “conflicting reasons for the report’s tardiness.” Coffman called the report a “critical first step in identifying our rare earth requirements for defense applications and reducing our nation’s unacceptable dependency on unreliable foreign suppliers for these materials.” He requested an interim report to be submitted by August 19, 2011, should DOD not be able to present the full report. It is not clear whether the full report or an interim report was submitted by that date.
Mining and Renewable Energy Bills Approved by House Committee (07/11)
The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 (H.R. 1904) during a mark-up on July 14, 2011. Under this legislation, 2,000 acres of federal forest land would be traded for 5,000 acres of land owned by Resolution Copper Co. The aim of the land exchange is to promote job opportunities in Arizona, facilitate domestic copper production, and increase government revenue while still protecting the surrounding wildlife. The committee approved six other bills. National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Access Act (H.R. 2150) expedites leasing of oil and gas in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska; Cutting Federal Red Tape to Facilitate Renewable Energy Act (H.R. 2170) streamlines the review process for renewable energy projects; Exploring for Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands Act (H.R. 2171) strives for timely geothermal energy exploration; Utilizing America's Federal Lands for Wind Energy Act (H.R. 2172) promotes wind energy production on Federal Lands; Advancing Offshore Wind Production Act (H.R. 2173) supports offshore wind energy sources; and Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act (H.R. 1408) addresses land entitlement in Southeast Alaska.
Critical Minerals Bill Calls for Domestic Production (07/11)
The House Natural Resources Committee held a mark-up on July 20, 2011. The committee unanimously approved the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011 (H.R. 2011), which calls for a national assessment of the United States’ capability to meet the growing demand for critical minerals. The legislation, part of the House Republican’s American Energy Initiative, is sponsored by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and cosponsored by 35 others. Lamborn and Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) see the legislation as a way to ensure global competitiveness and increase domestic mineral resources production. During the mark-up, the committee approved ten other bills primarily regarding land conveyance, tribal matters, and mineral rights on Montana tribal land.
Uranium Bill Passes House Energy and Commerce Committee (07/11)
On July 27, 2011 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power approved by voice vote the Energy and Revenue Enrichment Act of 2011 (H.R. 2054). The legislation, introduced by Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY), must now be voted on by the full committee. This bill was passed without the support of Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), subcommittee Ranking Member, and Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the full committee. Under this legislation, the Department of Energy (DOE) would conduct a two year program to re-enrich and consequently sell, the depleted uranium “tails” at government owned plants. Uranium “tails” refer to the 700,000 metric tons of depleted uranium that DOE stores at Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky. Critics argue the bill creates a monopoly since it does not allow for other domestic facilities to re-enrich uranium before the two year program is over.
Obama Creates Council to Promote Outdoor Recreation (06/11)
The Obama administration launched The Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR) on June 13, aimed at promoting outdoor recreation. The council consists of representatives from the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, as well as the White House and the Army. FICOR will work to align federal, state, local, and tribal entities in promoting outdoor recreation as a way to improve public health, quality of life, and the U.S. economy. A FICOR web site provides recreation information to the public. The council is part of the administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” agenda, outlined earlier this year.
Representative Hultgren Introduces Critical Minerals Bill (06/11)
Yet another bill to address the nation’s supply of critical minerals was introduced in Congress on June 2, 2011. The Energy Critical Elements Advancement Act of 2011 (H.R. 2090), introduced by Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL), calls for a market-based approach to improving the nation’s critical minerals supply. The act would direct the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in conjunction with the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, to further assess the nation’s supply of energy critical elements and would direct the National Science and Technology Council to compile a report on the viability of recycling energy critical elements. Energy critical elements are defined as rare earths and other elements critical to the development of energy technologies. Representative Brad Miller (D-NC), who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology with Hultgren, introduced legislation earlier (H.R. 952) on energy critical elements, asking the Department of Energy to conduct research and development on critical elements and substitutes.
Coffman Tries Another Rare Earth Bill (06/11)
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) has introduced another piece of legislation to address rare earth minerals supply chain concerns. The Rare Earth Policy Task Force and Materials Act (H.R. 2184) would establish a task force within the Department of the Interior (DOI) to review laws, policies, and regulations that inhibit investment and development of domestic rare earths. In addition to the task force, DOI would be required to submit a report to Congress detailing its plan to ensure a long-term supply of rare earth materials for national security and industry. Unlike Coffman’s first attempt, the Rare Earths Supply Chain Technology and Resources Transformation Act of 2011 (H.R. 1388), this bill does not seek to establish programs within DOI.
Senator Wyden Introduces Companion Soda Ash Bill in Senate (06/11)
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced legislation (S. 1144) in the Senate to extend the reduced royalty rate for soda ash production to ten years. In March, Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced a similar bill (H.R. 1192). The Soda Ash Royalty Reduction Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-338) reduced the royalty rate to two percent for five years and is set to expire in October.
House Panel Approves Coal Ash Bill (06/11)
On June 21, 2011, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy approved a measure to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal ash as a hazardous substance. Many in Congress agree that standards for ash disposal need to be tougher, but coal supporters believe a hazardous designation is unnecessary and will cause economic hardship. Under minimum federal guidelines, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2273) allows the states to create, implement, and enforce a coal ash disposal program. If a state fails to enforce a coal ash disposal program, the EPA will have the authority to intervene. Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) believes that the legislation to limit EPA’s ability to regulate the disposal of coal ash will add burdens to the agency and increase spending. Waxman stated in a letter to Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) that the Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary review of this legislation will “most likely increase discretionary costs by more than $500,000 over the next five years.” Waxman introduced an amendment to authorize millions of dollars to cover the bill’s cost. Republicans voted down the amendment and stated that setting up these coal ash programs at the state level will not result in significant costs.
More Critical Minerals Bills Introduced (05/11)
After soliciting public comments last month, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011 (S. 1113) to facilitate the reestablishment of a critical minerals industry, workforce, and research and development capabilities in the United States. The critical minerals include the rare earth elements, yttrium, scandium, cobalt, helium, phosphate, potash, lead, and thorium. The bill has bipartisan support from 16 senate co-sponsors; however, it has not been embraced by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). He is concerned with some of the bill’s mining provisions that expedite permitting for extraction and exploration.
Doug Lamborn (R-CO), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals in the Committee on Natural Resources has introduced a bill (H.R. 2011) to assess the nation’s capability to meet current and future demands for critical minerals. “The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011” directs the Secretary of the Interior (the Secretary) to prepare a report assessing the non-fossil-fuel mineral potential of land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service. The report would detail the required permitting steps and identify measures to streamline the processing of the applications. One provision would require the Secretary to assess the number of federal employees with educational degrees or experience in geology, geochemistry, mining, industrial minerals, metallurgy, metallurgical engineering, and mining engineering and compare the existing federal salaries with those offered in the mining industry. The bill is cosponsored by Doc Hastings (R-WA), chairman of the full committee.
Senator Tester Proposes Mine Reclamation Measure (05/11)
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has reintroduced legislation to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (30 U.S.C. 1235(l)). His bill, S.1003, would limit the liability of a state performing reclamation work under an approved state abandoned mine reclamation plan. This is a replica of a bill (S.3252) that Tester introduced in the last Congress.
Arizona Legislators Sponsor Copper Mine Bill (05/11)
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has introduced the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011 (H.R. 1904) to facilitate the construction of a large copper mine in Pinal County, Arizona. The bill would aid the transfer of roughly 2,400 acres of federal land on which lies a large undeveloped copper deposit to Resolution Copper Company in exchange for 5,300 acres of company property. Officials from Resolution Copper and supporters of the bill say the company land has a high conservation value and would provide thousands of acres of riparian area to public land. A compromise version of this bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the 111th Congress and has had bipartisan support in the past. The new bill has been cosponsored by only the Arizona Republicans in the House however, and will likely face opposition from Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) who sits on the House Natural Resources committee with Gosar and is a staunch conservationist.
Rare Earth Amendments Attached to Defense Authorization Bill (05/11)
After introducing stand-alone legislation (H.R. 1388) in April, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) is attempting to address the rare earth materials shortage through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (H.R. 1540). The first amendment to the authorization act, which passed in May, would require the Administrator of Defense Logistics Agency Strategic Materials to submit to the Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD) a plan to establish a stockpile of rare earth materials. The second requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on the feasibility and desirability of recycling rare earth elements used by the department. DOD rare earth consumption, about 5% of the nation's use, helps build a wide range of technologies from "smart" bombs to complex computer systems. This is the first rare earth related language to pass the House this Congress and has a good chance of becoming the first to pass into law.
Rare Earth Bills Introduced in March and April (04/11)
Four different rare earth bills were introduced in late March and April, while a draft of a fifth bill was made available for public comment. Representative Hank Johnson’s (D-GA) RARE Act of 2011 (H.R. 1314) would direct the Secretary of the Interior, through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to submit a comprehensive report on global rare earth element resources and potential future global supplies of such resources. The report would have to include recommendations on areas needing geological research related to rare earth elements and other critical materials. Johnson’s bill has been cosponsored by Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), and others.
Sponsored by Mike Coffman and other western and mid-western Republicans, the RESTART Act of 2011 (H.R. 1388) would create a task force of representatives from government agencies to find ways of accelerating the completion of projects to increase investment in, exploration for, and development of rare earth elements. Whereas Johnson’s RARE Act would require the USGS to only report on global resources and recommend future research opportunities, the RESTART Act would establish a research and development rare earths materials program at the USGS to explore, discover, and recover rare earth materials; improve methods of extraction; identify and test substitute materials; and to collect, catalog, and disseminate information on rare earths. Furthermore, it is the only bill introduced in April that would require a federal stockpile of specific materials and alloys.
Representative Brad Miller’s (D-NC) Energy Critical Elements Renewal Act of 2011 (H.R. 952) has been referred to the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where Miller is Ranking Member. It is similar to Representative Leonard Boswell’s (D-IA) legislation, the Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2011 (H.R. 618). The two bills would each establish a program at the Department of Energy to fund research and development of rare earths. Miller’s bill would include other “energy critical elements” that are not rare earths, such as cobalt, lithium, gallium, and indium. Both bills would provide for temporary loan guarantees under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 16511 et seq).
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is soliciting public input on a discussion draft of legislation to revitalize the nation’s critical materials supply chain. Her bill has sections on rare earth elements, helium gas, thorium and potash. The draft and instructions on how to submit comments can be found on the senator’s website. Comments are due by May 6.
Uranium Mining Bill Introduced in House (04/11)
Representatives Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Uranium Resources Stewardship Act (H.R. 1452) to manage uranium mining on federal lands through a competitive leasing program and to impose a 12.5 percent royalty on uranium. Under current law, the General Mining Act of 1872, companies do not pay royalties for minerals taken from public lands. Advocates for the bill say companies are not paying for cleanup and reclamation costs. Mining companies are opposed to any new measure that requires added fees. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced similar legislation in 2009, but the bill did not advance in the Senate.
Lummis Introduces Soda Ash Legislation (03/11)
Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced the Soda Ash Royalty Extension, Job Creation, and Export Enhancement Act of 2011 (H.R. 1192) in March, a bill that would extend the current royalty rate for soda ash, which is 2 percent. The rate was lowered from 6 percent in 2006 with help from Wyoming lawmakers and is set to return to the higher rate without congressional action.
Lummis said that in the midst of rising energy costs, the lower rate will help continue to support jobs and keep Wyoming competitive in the global market, where China has recently taken the lead in soda ash production. Soda ash is used to make glass, chemicals and detergents, and Sweetwater County in Wyoming has one of the largest deposits of trona, a mineral mined for the substance.
Forest Service Announces Forest Service Planning Draft Rule (02/11)
On February 10, the USDA released its proposed Forest Service Planning Draft Rule. The proposed rule would establish a fresh national framework to develop land management plans for the National Forest System that are more adaptive to stressors such as climate change and would increase public collaboration. No such update has been made on public land management planning procedures since 1982. The goal of the new rule is to create guidelines to protect water and wildlife while contributing to economic and social sustainability. Publication of the draft rule begins a 90 day period ending May 16, 2011 during which the public may comment on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement. Further information may be found at http://fs.usda.gov/planningrule.
Critical Minerals Bills Introduced (02/11)
Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced the “Critical Minerals and Materials Promotion Act of 2011” (S.383) on February 17. The bill would authorize several programs under the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Energy (DOE). DOI, acting through USGS, would establish a research and development program tasked with compiling the discovered and potential for undiscovered resources of critical materials in the United States and other countries as well as analyzing the current and future critical materials domestic and global supply chains. DOE would conduct a program of research and development to strengthen the domestic supply chain of critical materials for clean energy technologies. Other programs within the bill promote development of a critical materials industry workforce through partnerships with higher education institutions and the establishment of an early warning system of potential critical materials and supply problems. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
On the House side, Representative Leonard Boswell (D-IA) introduced the “Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act” (H.R. 618) on February 10 to promote the domestic production of REE’s. The legislation, first proposed by Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania in the 111 Congress (H.R. 6160), aims to further research through a DOE program on advancing technology affecting REE mining, manufacturing, recycling and authorizes research to find substitutions for and use less of the materials. It has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
APS-MRS Report on Critical Materials (02/11)
The American Physical Society and the Materials Research Society issued a joint report titled, “Energy Critical Elements: Securing Materials for Emerging Technologies.” This report approaches the critical minerals and materials debate by only focusing on “energy critical elements” (ECE’s) defined as rare earths and other elements critical to the development of new energy technologies. Discouraging stockpiling and heavy mining, the report recommends developing alternatives for ECE’s and promoting post-consumer recycling of industrial and consumer products containing ECE’s. “We can’t mine our way to ECE independence,” said Co-Chair Robert Jaffe, Professor of Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Instead we need to develop an integrated approach to securing the supply of these key materials.” With China supplying around 95% of the United States’ rare earths, a strong interest has been building this year on the Hill for solutions. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill (S.383) in February with similar recommendations as those found in the report.
Colorado Approves First Uranium Mill in 25 Years
Colorado has approved the first uranium mill to be built in the U.S. in over 25 years. On January 4, the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment approved Energy Fuels Inc.’s application for a license to operate a joint uranium-vanadium mill in the Western Colorado town of Naturita. Energy Fuels, a Canadian company, owns two uranium mines in proximity to the mill and plans to process 500 tons of ore per day, enough to fuel 2,000 megawatts of nuclear power, according to the company. Local opposition groups have raised concerns that Energy Fuels has not set aside sufficient funds to finance clean up of contaminated groundwater and soil that could result from the tailings disposal. Please see the health department’s press release and Energy Fuels web page on the mill for further details.
China Drafts New Mining Laws to Reduce Pollution
China has drafted new pollution standards that may constrain the domestic production of critical materials. China currently produces 97% of the world’s rare earth element (REE) supply and recently established export quotas that have created global supply constraints. China secured its place as the number one producer of REEs partly through lax environmental standards. Those standards drove down costs and forced other mines to abandon production, but lower pollution limits and more regular enforcement may reverse that trend. The new standards will be released as soon as February. The standards were approved by China's Ministry of Environmental Protection in December of 2010.
DOE Releases Critical Materials Strategy (12/10)
The Department of Energy (DOE) released a report in December outlining the department’s activities to secure the beneficial use of critical materials in the U.S. energy industry. The report entitled Critical Materials Strategy follows months of supply constraints of critical rare earth elements (REE), and it estimates that REEs could become more scarce if renewable energy is rapidly deployed in the next decade. Five REEs (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium) are identified as most critical in the short term, due to a lack of production and their importance to industry. The report outlines existing U.S. government programs for securing these and other critical materials and describes materials strategies from other nations as well.
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The General Mining Law, or Hard Rock Mining Act of 1872 was signed by President Ulysses S. Grant to protect and encourage mining and settlement in the Western territories. Since 1872, the law has been subjected to minimal change, but its scope has been greatly limited. The most significant change to the 1872 mining law was the removal of some federal lands and mineral resources from its jurisdiction. The creation of the National Park system and National Historic Sites established federal lands that are protected from mining. Indian reservations, military reservations, wilderness areas, and water and power projects have also removed land from the purview of the mining law. The act originally applied to all minerals except coal. In 1920 the Mineral Leasing Act set new policies for the mining of oil and gas, oil shale, phosphate, and sodium on public lands, removing them from control of the Hard Rock Mining Act. Other mineral resources were later added to this list.
There has been talk of reforming the 1872 act since 1935, and Congress attempted to reform the General Mining Law in the 111th with House and Senate versions of the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 (H.R. 699 and S. 796). The House measure would have allowed for various royalties and wilderness sanctuaries; enacted regulations to prevent degradation of public lands; and permitted petitions to withdraw specific federal land from possible mining. Senator Jeff Bingaman’s bill proposed to eliminate patents, increase fees, collect royalties, require permits, ensure water reclamation, limit forest system land degradation, review future mining claims on certain public lands and establish an abandoned mine reclamation program. Neither bill made it out of committee.
The 111th Congress looked at legislation to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 for abandoned mine clean-up, but none reached the floor for debate. The 1977 act established a fund to collect money to give to states to clean up abandoned coal mines, but some states use the funds to clean up abandoned hard rock mines such as uranium, gold and copper. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed S. 2830, a bill introduced by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that would clarify the rights of states and tribes to use the money for reclamation of non-coal mines.
In the 111th Congress, federal mining policy was dominated by concerns over shortages of rare earth elements (REE’s). The Senate and the House introduced bills to jump start a dormant U.S. industry during a Chinese export ban, but none of these bills reached the President’s desk (S. 4031; H.R. 6160; S.3521). In the 112th Congress, similar bills will likely be introduced, but viable legislation may be difficult, as some measures involve federal intervention into the mining industry.
The National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992 established the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP). The program is designed to increase coordination between the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the State Geologic Surveys to develop geologic maps through three component programs: FEDMAP (USGS); STATEMAP (State Geological Surveys); and EDMAP (student program). The federal government provides matching-funds grants to State Geological Surveys and universities who successfully complete a competitive application process. The act was reauthorized in 1997 (Public Law 105-36), 1999 (Public Law 106-148) and 2009 (Public Law 111-11) with consistent increases as well as some amendments.
The Geologic Mapping Act has generally received widespread, bipartisan support since its inception, although some have pushed for the increased privatization of the mapping process in the past. Geologic maps are recognized as important components of federal, state, local, and tribal efforts to manage mineral and water resources, mitigate hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes, plan urban development, and ensure security. NCGMP has demonstrated successes in all three major programs it is currently running by producing 7,500 geologic maps and developing a database of high quality digital geologic maps. The mapping process is never complete, however, as maps may be continually updated and refined through the use of advancing technologies such as digitization.
President Obama signed the Public Lands Omnibus legislation package in March 2009 (Public Law 111-11). The omnibus contains more than 160 bills authorizing conservation measures related to public lands, water and resources and programs to address ocean research, water and climate change, fossils on public lands and geologic mapping. It includes the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act, which provides funding ($64 million per year over ten years) to the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program to continue work on a national geologic map database and increases the allocation for state and educational components through fiscal year 2018.
In an international effort to increase access to geologic maps, the OneGeology project was launched in August 2008 at the 33rd International Geological Conference. The purpose of the project is to make web accessible the best available geological map data worldwide at a scale of about 1:1,000,000 million. It serves as a geological survey contribution to the International Year of Planet Earth.
Public lands are federal, state, county or municipal areas that belong to U.S. citizens. Public lands provide open space, clean water, habitat for plants and animals, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. In the United States, there are over 500 million acres of public lands. The Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service have jurisdiction over federal public lands. These lands include national parks, national forests, national conservation areas, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national historic and scenic trails. The Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of the Interior holds 66 million acres of land in trust for American Indians and Alaskan natives.
Many of the country’s natural resources come from public lands. The Bureau of Reclamation manages 479 dams and 348 reservoirs, which provide water for over 30 million people. Numerous energy projects operate on public lands. In all, energy projects on federal lands and offshore areas contribute about 30% of domestic energy production. These projects include oil (30% of total production), coal (45%), natural gas (38%), hydropower (17%), and geothermal (50%) production.
President Obama signed the Public Lands Omnibus in March 2009 (Public Law 111-11). Beyond expanding national parks and protecting 2 million acres of federal lands, the law contains many programs to address ocean research, water and climate change, fossils on public lands, and geologic mapping.
The protection and preservation of fossils on public lands remains a contentious subject as paleontological societies have been working with both Congress and federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Forest Service, to develop comprehensive legislation to prevent damage and the unauthorized removal of fossils from public lands. Such efforts must also consider appropriate accessibility to amateur fossil collectors and commercial fossil interests.
In response to a congressional request, eight federal agencies released the report Fossils on Federal and Indian Lands in May 2000. The report acknowledged the importance of fossils to the heritage of the United States, and that they are a rare resource containing scientific, educational, commercial, and recreational values. In order to keep scientifically important specimens in the public trust and streamline the collection requirements, the report recommended a framework of fossil management analogous to the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. Any future action should increase penalties for fossil theft from federal lands with consideration given to the value of fossils and any damage caused to them, restrict collection of vertebrate fossil to qualified personnel, recognize the rarity of some invertebrate and plant fossils, and emphasize the education of federal managers, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel on the value of fossils.
Included in the Public Lands Omnibus and passed in March 2009 is the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. It prevents taking fossils from public land without a permit but has an amendment allowing casual, or unknowing, collecting of common fossils.
Contributed by Linda Rowan, Geoscience Policy staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Vicki Bierwirth, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; Stephen Ginley, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Mining in the 111th Congress.
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Last updated on August 2, 2012