Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I rise today in strong support of H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act.
Not a day goes by when Americans don't use a product that is made from critical minerals. In fact, life as we know it in the 21st century would not be possible without these minerals. There would be no computers, no Blackberrys or iPhones. There would be no MRI, CAT scan, or X-ray machines. There would be no wind turbines or solar panels. Mr. Chairman, the list is exhaustive of these things that depend on critical minerals that make modern life possible.
Rare-earth elements, a special subset of strategic and critical minerals, are core components of these products in the 21st century. Yet despite the tremendous need for rare-earth elements, the United States has allowed itself to become almost entirely dependent on China and other foreign nations for these resources.
America has a plentiful supply of rare-earth elements, but roadblocks to the development of these crucial materials have resulted in China producing 97 percent of the world's supply. Our current policies are handing China a monopoly on these elements, creating a dependence that has serious implications on American jobs, on our economy, and on our national security.
Burdensome red tape, duplicative reviews, frivolous lawsuits, and onerous regulations can hold up new mining projects here in the U.S. for more than 10 years. These unnecessary delays cost American jobs as we become more and more dependent on foreign countries for these raw ingredients. The lack of America-produced strategic and critical produced minerals are prime examples of how America has regulated itself into a 100 percent dependence on at least 19 unique minerals. It has also earned the
United States the unfortunate distinction of being ranked dead last when it comes to permitting mining projects. In 2012, the U.S. was ranked last, along with Papua New Guinea, out of 25 major mining countries on the pace of permitting. Mr. Chairman, I can't speak for Papua New Guinea, but the reason the U.S. Government is so slow to issue new mining permits is very simple: government bureaucracy.
H.R. 761, introduced by our colleague from Nevada, Mr. Amodei, will help us to end the foreign dependence by streamlining government red tape that blocks America's strategic and critical mineral production. Instead of waiting for over a decade for mining permits to be approved, this bill sets a goal of total review process for permitting at 30 months.
Now this isn't a hard deadline, Mr. Chairman. It can be extended. But it is a goal to push the bureaucrats into action on these important infrastructure projects. It shouldn't take a decade to get a project built for minerals that we need in our everyday life and for our national security.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, above all, this is a jobs bill. The positive economic impact of this bill will extend beyond just the mining industry. For every metal mining job created, an estimated 2.3 additional jobs are generated. And for every nonmetal mining job created, another 1.6 jobs are created.
This legislation gives the opportunity for 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.
As China continues to tighten global supplies of rare-earth elements, we should respond with an American mineral mining renaissance that will bring mining and manufacturing jobs back to America. The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act is important to our jobs and to our economy. We must act now to cut the government red tape that is stopping American mineral production and furthering our dependence on foreign minerals.
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Today we are considering H.R. 761, the so-called National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013. Now, despite the bill's title, it has almost nothing to do with national strategic and critical minerals production. In fact, under the guise of promoting the development of minerals critical to the United States' national security, this legislation would reshape mining decisions on public lands for almost all minerals.
Mr. Chairman, the bill's classification of ``critical minerals'' is so broad that even sand and gravel and other such things can fall under its definition. Critical and strategic minerals? The Democratic amendments we will consider today will attempt to tailor this legislation to cover only minerals that are truly critical and strategic and will address the egregious provisions that would truncate important environmental review.
Make no mistake, this bill is a giveaway. It is free mining, no royalties, no protection of public interest, exemption from royalty payments, near exemption from environmental regulations, near exemption from legal enforcement of the protections. And it's unnecessary.
There is a real debate that we could be having about the mining laws in this country. It should start with reforming the mining law of 1872, which is as archaic as its name suggests--the mining law of 1872. We should be discussing abandoned mine reclamation. We should be discussing ensuring taxpayers a fair return on industrial development of our public lands.
Mr. Chairman, in the Natural Resources Committee markup on May 15 of this year where H.R. 761 was reported out on a nearly party line vote, the committee also reported two other bills on a bipartisan basis, two other bills that would lay the groundwork for developing critical and strategic mineral production. Those bills, H.R. 1063, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013, and H.R. 981, the RARE Act, were unanimously reported out of the Natural Resources Committee and
legitimately would be worth debating here in the House as part of any serious effort to improve our understanding of critical strategic mineral deposits and to aid in their development.
We reported out bills on a bipartisan basis that would do what this legislation purports to do. We could be discussing those bills. Instead, we're taking up legislation which is a giveaway. The legislation we could be dealing with would actually deal with strategic and critical minerals. Now, if the majority were to bring it to the floor, I'm sure it would pass in an overwhelming, bipartisan way and would likely be passed by the other body and signed into law. In fact, in the last Congress, the
National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act--not to be confused with the Production Act that we are considering today--was supported by the National Mining Association.
The president and CEO of the National Mining Association issued a statement when that bill passed out of committee last Congress, and he said: ``The House Natural Resources Committee took important bipartisan action today to ensure U.S. manufacturers, technology innovators, and our military have a more stable supply of minerals vital to the products they produce and use.'' He went on to say that legislation, ``will provide a valuable assessment of our current and future mineral demands and our
ability to meet more of our needs through domestic
We could be considering legislation like that.
We should be able to work in a bipartisan fashion when it comes to improving our supply of rare-earth minerals and other strategic minerals and ensuring that we are not dependent on China and other nations for their supply. But the majority seems to be not interested in that. Evidently, they don't want to work in a bipartisan fashion to produce legislation that all sides out there in the country, in industry, people who look after public lands and the environment could agree on. Instead, they're
moving this bill, H.R. 761, which has almost nothing to do with strategic minerals, is really about giveaways to the mining industry.
This bill would be a Trojan horse if it were to become law; however, it has no chance of becoming law. Maybe the American people should be grateful we won't pass this giveaway, that the American people--I say, those American people who don't stand to get rich by this mining giveaway.
But can the American people really feel good that we're wasting time and actually not looking after the critical and strategic minerals that American products, American defense depends on? Why are we playing these games? Why, I should say, are they playing these games with our legitimate needs to develop strategic minerals? We should be working in the kind of fashion that led to last year's bill.
The majority should shelf this giveaway to the mining industry and bring to the floor serious proposals that we could honestly debate as part of a legitimate bipartisan discussion regarding rare-earth policy and supply.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. AMODEI. Mr. Chairman, having a real debate on this issue is something that I wholeheartedly support.
We probably ought to start with the facts. First of all, you've heard much about the overly broad definition. H.R. 761 deliberately contains a broad definition of strategic and critical minerals. Here are some of the reasons why:
In 2006, prior to the worldwide economic downturn, there was great concern over the future availability of platinum, group metals, and copper. At the time, projections in demand for copper indicated that by 2016, 30 large-scale copper deposits would have to come online to meet worldwide demand. At the time, there were not enough copper deposits in the permitting pipeline to make up for the projected downward curve.
And you have heard much about sand and gravel. Even sand and gravel and other construction mineral materials can be in short supply or not available, as the USGS discovered in 2009 during the great California shakeout. What they discovered during that was that, in its assessment of scope and damage and materials needed for construction in the event of a large-scale earthquake, USGS discovered there were not enough sand, gravel, and other construction materials available in the region to meet
the affected area's reconstruction needs.
So when you talk about the ability to foretell the future and you say, well, we should just limit things to the i-u-m ending minerals, I say you probably ought to think about what it takes to get a bill through Congress to respond to those things because it's less timely than the Federal permitting process.
Much has been made about getting rid of NEPA review. You know, when all else fails, read the bill. Take a look at page 7. And when you look at lines 4 through 9 there, these are not the words that you would be using if you were trying to get rid of the NEPA process. Starting up at page 6, line 24, it says, ``The lead agency with responsibility for'' permitting. Then you go down to page 7, line 5, it says, ``if the procedural and substantive safeguards of the permitting process alone,'' they must
find that those are there. Look at line 5, ``if the procedural'' are found. That is unlimited discretion in an executive branch agency.
So don't tell me that we're getting rid of NEPA, because the bill would have been written differently if we were trying to get rid of NEPA.
I want to also point your attention to the base of this is an infrastructure executive order from the current administration that talks about avoiding duplication of efforts. I also want to point out some words in there. It says, ``infrastructure projects in sectors, including surface transportation''--oh, by the way, I think that has something to do with sand and gravel--``aviation''--runways I think have some of those elements that people don't think are critical--``ports, waterways, water
resource projects, renewable energy generation, electricity transmission, broadband, pipelines''--hello, Keystone. See how good it's done them.
If this is an attempt to skirt environmental regulations, somebody probably should have written it differently. We didn't. It is simply not the truth.
And I want to talk about fair return on all this taxation stuff. In my State, which is 85 percent owned by the Federal Government, the Federal Government gives $22 million a year to the rural counties in Nevada for PILT. And I know some of my colleagues from east of the Mississippi don't understand what that acronym means. It's payment in lieu of taxes, $22 million. What this bill is really about is about jobs.
The final piece is this. This does not require anybody in the Federal permitting agencies to say, Yes, you can have your permit in 30 months. It requires an answer in 30 months. Nobody seeks to apply this to get a nice, crisp ``no'' in 30 months, which is why the language is in there, Mr. Chairman, that says, by the way, if both sides agree, you can have longer to process it.
Now, when you bounce that off the claims of 3 1/2 and 5 years, under existing administration permitting timelines, asking them to set a 30-month timeline is not something which undoes environmental responsibility, rapes the landscape, and outdoes the taxpayers out of their normal revenues that are there.
Mr. HOLT. I thank the Chair, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Well, I will repeat. This bill is a giveaway. It is free mining, no royalties. I referred to the archaic legislation that goes by the archaic name of the Mining Act of 1872 which excuses miners from royalty payments. That would apply here.
And as for excusing the miners from environmental regulations, the legislation says that the lead agency shall determine that a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of human environment has not occurred or is not occurring. In other words, the mining activities are excluded from, excused from, the triggering language of the Environmental Policy Act. No significant environmental policy review would be undertaken under the National Environmental Policy Act if the agency can
say, Well, the State is doing something; the State is doing something, whatever that may be, however adequate that may turn out to be.
So I call that a relaxation, if not an exemption, of environmental protection. And I repeat, these mining activities do not allow for a fair return to the taxpayer, the owners of this land, for the use of this land.
And under this, we could call anything at all strategic and critical. Yeah, sometimes the military might need to build a runway or extend a runway, but to say that the sand and gravel that's necessary to do that becomes strategic is a real perversion of the idea of strategic and critical.
So let's deal with those things that we need for aircraft engines and powerful magnets, lanthanum and neodymium and gadolinium and dysprosium and these other so-called rare-earth elements, some of which are actually not so rare, but they're dispersed and, therefore, hard to mine and hard to get adequate quantities of them and some of which are truly rare.
Let's deal with the legislation that makes those available for manufacturing needs, for national security needs, rather than having a catch-all mining definition that excuses any kind of mining from royalties and from environmental regulation.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SMITH of Missouri. Mr. Chairman, I commend the Congressman for recognizing the need to correct a major supply chain vulnerability in the United States, that of critical and strategic minerals.
Many of us in Congress only heard of the concept of strategic minerals after [Page: H5609]
we became lawmakers. Most of the time, we hear about exotic elements at the bottom of the periodic table like neodymium and europium, but the fact is that we are facing down potentially devastating supply disruptions for a much more familiar material, lead.
In my district, we know a lot about lead because my district produces more lead than any other district in the Nation. We rely on lead for everything from bullets, missiles, ships and tanks, to batteries for vehicles and energy storage, to TV and computer screens, to storing nuclear waste. Almost every one of us drives a car powered by a lead-acid battery.
It may be hard to believe that lead could be a strategic vulnerability for the United States because we have used it in so many products for over a century. Over the past generation, we have taken lead out of things like gasoline and paint to help protect human health.
But the fact is lead is still crucial as a critical material that we use safely in a vast number of American-manufactured technologies. There is only one primary lead producer remaining in the United States today, and that facility is scheduled to close at the end of 2013. And environmental regulations are making it more and more difficult for lead producers to extract and process economically.
Today, China produces three times the lead that the United States produces, and our global market share is shrinking. At the same time, global demand for lead is expected to grow by 5 to 6 percent a year, increasing prices and competition for our domestic resources.
American innovators are working hard to improve the efficiency of lead production and make sure as many lead-acid batteries as possible are recycled so their contents can be repurposed. But the U.S. simply cannot meet its national security needs and commercialize important new technologies without a more robust, secure supply.
I hope that H.R. 761 will open doors for lead production in the United States, and that any future legislative efforts on critical minerals will also account for lead supplies.
Mr. AMODEI. Mr. Chairman, only in Washington would we be having a debate about whether 4 years is okay or 2 1/2 years is okay when we're talking about a jobs bill. And only in Washington would we talk about cherry-picking when we're talking about the vast majority of the production that is sought for permitting, and the vast number of jobs that is created is not--I want to make this very clear so the record is clear--is not handled within 3 years.
Now, it may be true that it's less than the Bush administration, which is fine. Let's assume that it is.
But when you're talking about primarily issues that deal with Western lands whose States are at or near a majority of Federal ownership, and you want to talk about the middle class, and you want to talk about generating jobs, and you want to say, hey, by the way, you can take as long as you want; we don't know if you're going to have a job in that industry or not because there are no rules.
Only in Washington would we be defending no time limits whatsoever. To say 30 months is a bad idea, with language that says, if both sides agree, you can take longer, is not an unreasonable environmental or administrative stance.
Nobody wants a nice, crisp denial in 30 months; and by the way, if the application should be denied, then I presume that it will be denied.
But what we're seeing now, and you can find no legislative history for this anywhere in any of the applicable environmental regulations and statutes, of which all still apply, there is nothing that says, by the way, if nothing else works, just see if you can drag it out as long as possible and hope that that capital goes away. Because when you talk about permitting attractiveness, it's not what these folks are those folks say, it's where the capital goes. And the capital isn't going here.
And the strategic interest of having to go to China for your rare-earths or having to go to other countries to produce those is not apparent. [Page: H5610]
Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I might consume.
My friend on the other side of the aisle says that, evidently, the agencies that are reviewing these massive projects, projects that can permanently degrade the environment, permanently degrade the environment, hurt public health, affect communities, they're doing it just to be mean to the mining interests.
No, I don't think so. They are charged with protecting the lands that belong to Americans, the health of Americans, and the long-term welfare of the communities.
Now, as for China, let's talk about China. We should be talking about China. We should be concerned about what happens to the rare-earth minerals around the world and in this country being locked up by China.
Talk to any business searching the venture capital community for start-up funding, and one of the first things that they will be asked is, what is your China plan, because if you don't have a China plan, you won't be very successful.
The bill that we're considering today, once again, shows that Republicans, in their eagerness to have giveaways for the mining industry, are wandering in total darkness when it comes to developing a strategy for dealing with China.
In the Findings section of the bill before us it says:
The industrialization of China and India has driven demand for nonfuel mineral commodities, sparking a period of resource nationalism exemplified by China's reduction in exports of rare-earth elements.
True. And these are the rare-earth elements that are necessary for telecommunications and military technologies and health care technologies and conventional energy and renewable energy technologies.
So what would this bill do about China's export restrictions?
What would this bill do to ensure that China not restrict exports of rare-earths to us, or that we keep the rare-earth elements in this country to be used as strategic input to these strategic industries?
I have news for my colleagues. We do, in the United States, produce rare-earth. We mine and concentrate rare-earth elements. The Molycorp facility in California mines one of the richest rare-earth deposits in the world. They're ramping up to 40,000 tons of production by next year. That will be a quarter of the global production.
But guess what? Guess where they are sending much of that production? Yes, China. That's right. Our rare-earths will go to China to be refined into alloys and metals. And there they will stay, if the Chinese Government so determines, for Chinese high-tech manufacturers. What are we doing about that in this legislation? Nothing.
So why are we doing this legislation first when the bigger problem is how are we going to have a reliable supply of these strategic minerals.
The Republican solution is, China, we waived our environmental laws. We're going to turn these out faster and faster from these public lands that belong to the American people. We'll send them to you, China, so you can refine them. And please send them back to us.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. HOLT. I have no further speakers, and I yield myself the remaining time.
In closing, let me just repeat what we've heard over and over. This is unnecessary. It's not dealing with the real problems first. It is a giveaway to the mining industry to exempt them from regulations, to exempt them from paying a reasonable royalty to the American people for use of the American people's lands. It would alter nearly all mining operations on public lands in the United States by reducing or even eliminating review under the National Environmental Policy Act. It would change these
mining operations not just for these rare-earth elements but for copper, uranium, sand, and gravel.
The Interior Department testified this legislation would remove many of the environmental safeguards for almost all types of hardrock mines on public lands, bypass evaluation of potential impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act, and limit public involvement in agency decisionmaking.
Can that be a good idea--to eliminate all those things and not actually deal with the production and supply and availability of strategic minerals?
The authors of the bill say it's needed ``because it could take a developer years to get all government permits in place.'' Well, that's up to the developer to get those in. And it's up to the government agencies to make sure they do it in a way that protects the public health, protects the public lands, protects the future of communities that would be affected by this.
This bill is not about fixing delays, but really about preventing proper environmental review and safety and public health reviews.
We should be updating the Mining Act of 1872. We are a century or a century-and-a-half late in updating that mining law. Maybe there was a time in the 19th century where we wanted to send people out to develop the great expanses of the western United States and give them carte blanche. We've come a long way since then.
We should get up to date here in the House of Representatives. We should be dealing with the hundred thousand known abandoned mines that are a danger to people and to the environment. Promoting the development of minerals that are critical to core national priorities and that are genuinely susceptible to disruptions should be an area where both sides, Republicans and Democrats, can work together. Instead, we're dealing with special interests, giving them free rein in a handout.
I urge my colleagues to reject this misguided bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.