by Laura Humes
Introduced in February of this year, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 (H.R. 761), would roll back critical environmental protections on public lands, making it easier for multinational mining corporations to exploit our precious natural resources. Sadly, H.R. 761 was passed by a nearly party-line vote in the House of Representatives on September 18, and will now move on for consideration by the Senate.
What does H.R. 761 mean in a practical sense? The bill requires that the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture develop new mining projects on U.S. soil in order to increase the “economic and national security and manufacturing competitiveness” of the United States.
By broadly defining strategic and critical minerals as “those that support domestic manufacturing, agriculture, housing, telecommunications, healthcare, transportation infrastructure, or the nation’s economic security and balance of trade,” the bill would allow nearly anything that can be extracted out of the ground to be more easily approved as a mining project.
The bill accelerates new mining projects by arbitrarily limiting the total review process for new mining projects to 30 months or less, limiting citizen and community input on mining development, fast-tracking permit approval for mining projects regardless of environmental consequences, and undercutting the longstanding National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of our most important environmental laws.
The bill directly threatens America’s iconic public lands. If the H.R. 761 is passed, exemptions may be granted for mining projects on federally administered lands in National Forests that would de-list the land as protected forest and allow it to be developed for the mining projects.
House Review and Next Steps
H.R. 761 was reviewed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday of last week and passed 246 to 178. Minnesota Representatives Michelle Bachmann and John Kline, co-supporters of the H.R. 761, voted to pass the bill, along with Representatives Paulson, Peterson, and Nolan. Representatives McCollum, Ellison, and Walz opposed the bill.
The bill now moves on to the Senate, where it will be discussed and voted upon at an undetermined date. If passed by the Senate, the bill will go to the President for final approval.
What Does This Mean for Minnesotans?
The passage of H.R. 761 has dire consequences for our state’s most treasured natural resources. Because the bill broadly covers all mineral resources, it would allow for new sulfide mining projects to be granted a speedy permit. Sulfide mining, which extracts minerals like copper and nickel from sulfide ore, has incredible environmental and health impacts.
Toxic pollution in the form of acid mine drainage threatens critical habitats and prime groundwater sources. Already, two major sulfide mining projects have been proposed. The PolyMet open pit mine and Twin Metals mine both intend to develop sulfide mining projects in the Lake Superior watershed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, respectively. The passage of H.R. 761 would allow these mines to be considered for fast-track approval.
If you’d like your voice to be heard, send a message to your members of Congress.
Laura Humes is a student at Macalester College with a passion for conservation, sustainability, and community activism.