US House Passes Critical Minerals Bill to Streamline Permitting Process

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A bill (HR 4402) that would streamline the process of bringing US mineral reserves to market passed the House of Representatives last week. China’s announced moves to stockpile rare earth metals highlight the need for the US to identify alternative means of sourcing a broad spectrum of metals deemed both critical and strategic to national security — not to mention industry.

But the bill will likely languish in the Senate (Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced the companion bill) and faces an uncertain future as President Obama has indicated he does not support the legislation for environmental reasons.

Ironically, the president issued Executive Order 13604 back in late March, “which requires a significant reduction in the review and permitting timeframes for infrastructure projects,” but opposes the bill to “include domestic mines that provide strategic and critical minerals within the scope of “infrastructure projects” for the purposes of Executive Order 13604,” according to the NMA.

According to the National Mining Association, as the world’s largest consumer, we have $6.2 trillion dollars of mineral reserves (in the ground, that is). The US has the dubious distinction of one of the slowest permitting process in the world running on average of 7-10 years.

One might characterize the process as run by the subcontractors with no GC (general contractor) in charge of the overall project. The bill seeks to streamline the process by assigning a lead agency to coordinate amongst the more than 10 governmental agencies currently involved in the process, as well as to place time boxes around some of the steps that typically lengthen the process such as reviewing NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) notices and litigation notices.

Meanwhile, Back at the WTO

But waiting 7-10 years to streamline the US mining process won’t solve today’s current challenge of alleviating supply chain bottlenecks.

In a recent move, the WTO created a panel to analyze China’s export trade policies involving rare earths, tungsten and molybdenum, according to Xinhua news agency. The US and Europe believe China has violated WTO trade rules and no resolution came as a result of the WTO dispute resolution framework.

The panel would develop a report and China would review the requests. But according to the Xinhua account, China reiterated that its policy of limiting exports had to do with creating a sustainable rare earth mining industry as opposed to distorting foreign trade.

We’ll have to see about that.

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