Klobuchar, Franken co-sponsor ‘critical minerals’ bill in SenateU.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken joined 15 of their colleagues Tuesday introducing legislation to encourage mining of “critical minerals” across the U.S.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken joined 15 of their colleagues Tuesday introducing legislation to encourage mining of “critical minerals” across the U.S.
The Minnesota Democrats joined senators on both sides of the aisle, all from mining states, on the bill called the “Critical Minerals policy Act of 2013.”
The Senate bill requires the Interior Secretary to maintain a list of 20 minerals and elements designated as critical to the nation. It would amend the National Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 to establish a method of tracking and forecasting the nation’s “critical mineral demand, supply and other market dynamics” to allow “informed actions to be taken to avoid supply shortages, mitigate price volatility and prepare for demand growth and other market shifts.”
The 40-page bill stops short of identifying what specific critical minerals might be.
Klobuchar said her support comes from doing what is best for the state and country regarding the mineral supply.
“Many of the industries that drive our economy and keep us safe rely on these minerals,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This bill will make much-needed policy updates to help ensure an abundant domestic mineral supply that will help Northeast Minnesota — and the country — remain on the cutting edge of innovation and stay competitive on the global stage.”
The legislation also would push federal regulators “to facilitate the availability, development and environmentally responsible production of domestic resources to meet national critical material or mineral needs.” It also calls for more oversight to make sure critical minerals are recycled.
The bill orders federal agencies to avoid duplicating regulatory actions, prevent unnecessary paperwork and minimize “unnecessary delays” in mining projects, including exploration.
“So many parts of our 21st Century economy depend on critical minerals that it just makes sense to bring federal policies up to date,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement on the introduction.
“This bill creates a more secure domestic supply chain for critical minerals, and makes sure that our country’s national defense, high-tech jobs, energy security and advanced medical care are not held hostage by foreign suppliers.”
Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a copper mining trade group, said Minnesota’s fledgling copper-nickel mining industry could benefit from the Senate bill.
“We certainly encouraged our Minnesota Senators to be co-authors and were pleased they took a leadership role on this,” he said.
Ongaro said the Senate version appears to have more bipartisan support than a similar bill that passed the Republican-controlled House in September but has been criticized by Democrats in the Senate and the Obama administration as unworkable because of its potential environmental impacts.
Having the Democratic committee chairman on board is good news for the Senate version, Ongaro noted. “This is a good first step in revitalizing our domestic minerals industry…. Right now we have zero domestic nickel production. We’re dependent on foreign governments for all of the (raw) nickel we need.”
Under the Senate bill, the director of the Bureau of Land Management and the Secretary of Agriculture, who oversees the National Forest system, are required to “inform decision-makers and affected communities about the potential positive and negative impacts of proposed mining activities” and follow “timelines and schedules for completion of reviews and for inspection and enforcement activities.”
Lori Andresen, who leads the Sierra Club’s mining program in Minnesota, said the Senate bill appears more ambiguous than the House version regarding environmental review. But she said the bill could apply to copper-nickel mining projects such as those being considered in Northeastern Minnesota.
Mining supporters say those projects, such as the PolyMet project near Hoyt lakes, are taking too long to be approved, while mining critics say the long overview is needed to make sure the projects won’t harm the environment. And, she said, even if the minerals are mined here, there is no guarantee they will be used in the U.S.
“My question is, how do we know that these so-called critical minerals will be available for our own use when they will be mined by multinational mining corporations that will sell them on the world commodities market?” Andresen told the News Tribune. She noted that foreign companies own large shares of companies developing Minnesota copper projects.