Mining claims

Photo By DENNIS MYERS U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei pays his bill at a Reno restaurant. A mining bill sponsored by Amodei passed the House on a near-party line vote.

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, a Nevada Republican, claims his bill offers “predictability and transparency.”

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) claims the measure would give “a free ride” to mining corporations.

Amodei called it a “job creating bill.”

One of Amodei’s New Jersey colleagues in the House called it a “giveaway.”

Amodei called it “streamlining.”

One of his Massachusetts colleagues called it a throwback to unregulated mining.

What was clear was that the Amodei bill, if passed, will speed up—and reduce—environmental review of mines. Surprisingly, few if any environmental groups took note of the legislation or got involved in lobbying on it.

A fierce fight unfolded in the U.S. House over the measure, which Amodei calls the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012.” It was introduced on April 19 and designated H.R. 4402.

The legislation is not a bipartisan measure. It was approved in the House on a 256-160 vote. Every Republican who voted supported it. Only 22 Democrats voted for it. Those 22 included Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley.

Little was heard from the measure until it came out of committee to the floor for a vote. PLAN quickly sent out a message to its members in Nevada with the subject line, “Tell Congress: Put People Above Mining Profits.” The message itself was headlined “Rep. Amodei’s Minerals Production Act: Bad for Nevada.”

Amodei—who served as president of the Nevada Mining Association while serving his last term in the Nevada Senate—described the bill this way: “Duplicative regulations, bureaucratic inefficiency, and lack of coordination between federal agencies are threatening the economic recovery of my home state and jeopardizing our national security. Nevada, which is rich in strategic and critical minerals, also has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Decade-long permitting delays are standing in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local communities. This bill would streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic and environmental concerns.”

PLAN described the bill this way: “[It] would nearly abolish the public’s right to participate in the management of mining claims on lands that belong to all of us. … Nevadans and others must speak out against this bill that will: Eliminate meaningful environmental review for mining projects; nearly eliminate opportunities for citizens to participate in critical public review of mining projects; speed up permitting for mines; and force federal land managers of most public lands to make mineral extraction—not conservation or even recreation—their top priority.”

PLAN director Bob Fulkerson said, “The mining industry already enjoys free and open access to hardrock minerals on public lands, minerals they receive for free—no royalties—under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. In addition, federal law already prioritizes mining as ‘the highest and best use’ of public land.”

The White House issued a statement that said the measure “would undermine and remove the environmental safeguards, for, at a minimum, almost all types of hardrock mines on Federal lands. Notwithstanding the title and the stated purpose of the legislation, H.R. 4402, as reported by the House Natural Resources Committee, is drafted in such a manner as to cover virtually all hardrock mining on Federal lands. … The Administration strongly supports the development of rare earth elements and other critical minerals, but rejects the notion that their development is incongruent with environmental protection and public involvement in agency decision-making.” The statement also said the Amodei bill threatens “hunting, fishing, recreation and other activities which create jobs and sustain local economies across the country” because it elevates mining uses of the public’s lands over others.

House Natural Resources Committee chair Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, said, “America cannot afford to be heavily reliant on foreign countries for our energy or for strategic and critical minerals that are necessary for so many of the products used in our daily lives. We have all seen the impact of our dependence on foreign oil; when we have the resources, like rare earth elements, available here at home there is no reason that we should have complete dependence on foreign minerals.”

New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt charged that the bill “has almost nothing to do with national strategic critical minerals production. Make no mistake, this is a giveway. It is free mining, no royalties, no protection of public interest, exemption from royalty payments, near exemption from environmental regulations, near exemption of legal enforcement of the protections.”

Senate in doubt

An amendment by U.S. Rep. Raymond Cravaack, a Minnesota Republican whose district includes the Mesabi and Vermilion iron mining districts, passed without a roll call vote. It would allow projects already in the permitting pipeline to switch to the faster process.

Republicans also voted down an amendment by Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey amendment to require a 12.5 percent royalty on gold, silver and uranium mined on public lands.

Markey said of the full piece of legislation, “In this latest giveaway to corporations, Republicans claim that sand, gravel, stone and clay are ‘strategic minerals,’ ushering a new Stone Age in the United States. This bill isn’t giving us the futuristic technologies of the Jetsons. It’s giving us the prehistoric technologies of the Flintstones.” He said it would allow mining corporations to go around the environmental review process that now exists under the National Environmental Policy Act, elevating mining over other uses of public lands, including uses employed by other industries such as grazing. (Last week, the Reno Gazette-Journal weighted a reader poll in Amodei’s favor by including the word strategic in the question, though it is in dispute whether the bill involves strategic minerals.)

Hastings said Amodei’s measure gives “American manufacturers, small businesses, technology companies, and construction firms to use American resources to help make the products that are essential to our everyday lives and in the process also put more Americans back to work.” But critics pointed out that it benefits American manufacturers only in the sense that Canada is in America. Most mining corporations are Canadian.

The mining press and media in mining districts, including Reno’s Mineweb, are watching the process carefully. The Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota speculated that Amodei’s measure “appears to apply to both mineral exploration and actual mining projects.”

The measure’s fate in the Senate is uncertain. PLAN is hoping Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic floor leader, will stop it. Reid was elected as a critic of the mining industry in 1986 but made his peace with it during his first term.

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About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.