National Security and productivity depend on access to minerals

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, points out in an editorial in The Hill that “The U.S. Department of Defense uses 750,000 tons of minerals each year in technologies that protect the very troops that protect our nation. Metals such as copper, lead and nickel are used in military gear, weapon systems and other defense technologies. Additionally, the mineral beryllium is used to reduce weight and improve guidance performance in fighter jets and NASA technologies such as the mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope. But despite the strategic importance of minerals and metals to our national security, the United States ranks behind China, Russia, Chile and South Africa in terms of production. Furthermore, we remain completely import-dependent for 19 key minerals resources and more than 50 percent import-dependent for an additional 24 mineral commodities, which subjects supply chains to geopolitical instability and supply disruption.”

The US is blessed with abundant mineral resources but politics are, in many cases blocking to delaying productive use of those resources.

Quinn laments that “duplicative, inefficient permitting process wraps our domestic mineral development in endless red tape, stifling investment in new and existing mines in the United States.” Much of this delay is due to lawsuits by radical environmentalists. In the US, mining permits can take upwards of seven to 10 years, compared with countries such as Canada and Australia, whose modern minerals policies enable them to complete the process in two to three years, giving them a decided advantage over the United States.

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015 introduced in the House of Representatives and the American Mineral Security Act of 2015 introduced in the Senate aim to remedy the situation and “modernize the current U.S. mining permitting process and allow for access to the trillions of dollars worth of resources we have here at home.”

These bills deserve bipartisan support.

See also:

How NEPA crushes productivity

Mining and the bureaucracy

Rosemont Copper: An Argument for Reforming the Process

This post is a guest opinion by David F. Briggs.  David F. Briggs is a resident of Pima county and a geologist, who has intermittently worked on the Rosemont Copper project since 2006.  He can be contacted at geomineinfo@aol.com.

Rosemont Copper:  An Argument for Reforming the Process

Used to Permit Mining Projects

 by David F. Briggs

Last week two events made the news, whose ultimate outcome will potentially impact the citizens of southeastern Arizona.  One was disappointing, while the other offered hope.  On Monday, September 16, the Coronado National Forest announced its decision to delay the controversial Rosemont Copper project for another six months.  Although this was disappointing to Rosemont Copper’s supporters and Arizonans, who will benefit from this important project, there appears to be light at the end of tunnel.  Under new Forest Service regulations (36 CFR 218), once the Draft Record of Decision is released with the Final Environment Impact Statement in November, the Forest Service is required under law to issue a final decision in 120 days.  This procedural change also makes it less likely for the courts to issue an injunction as a result of litigation that will undoubtedly follow any decision that allows this project to move forward.

The other news event occurred on Wednesday, September 18, when the U. S. House of Representatives passed the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 (H. R. 761). This bill is designed to restore our ability to supply the minerals we require for our economic and national security needs while maintaining the protections provided under our nation’s environmental laws.  In light of the numerous delays experienced by the Rosemont Copper project over the last six years, this is very encouraging news, because it establishes a statutory limit of thirty months on the period required to permit a mining project under the National Environmental Policy Act.  It also places time limits on filing civil suits that challenge the actions by federal agencies, eliminates reimbursement of legal expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act and encourages the courts to deal with these cases in a expeditious manner.

The necessity to modify the current permitting process becomes apparent when one considers the impact repeated delays have had on our ability to supply the minerals we require to ensure our national security and to maintain and improve our infrastructure and standard of living.  Permitting mining projects has become so cumbersome, it threatens our ability to attract the investment capital required to find and develop the natural resources required to fulfill the needs of present and future generations of Americans.

Unnecessary costs resulting from our open-ended permitting process  significantly reduce the U. S. mining industry’s ability to compete in the international marketplace.  It also wastes valuable resources, which could be better used to create productive employment opportunities for America’s workers.

Today, less than half of the minerals used by the U. S. manufacturing sector are derived from domestic sources.  This dependence on foreign sources for minerals has left our national security needs vulnerable to decisions made by foreign governments.  It has also contributed to our nation’s large trade deficits, needlessly sending billions of dollars abroad, which could have been invested in our economic future.

As this legislation moves through the U. S. Senate over the coming months, I urge our elected representatives to put aside partisan differences and take a serious look at this bill’s potential to reduce our nation’s reliance on foreign sources for the minerals we use, revitalize our domestic minerals supply chain and create incentives for investment and employment opportunities throughout the natural resource and manufacturing sectors of our nation’s economy.

Copyrighted by David F. Briggs. Reprint is permitted provided the credit of authorship is provided and linked back to the source.

How NEPA crushes productivity

NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, was signed into law in 1970 by President Richard Nixon with the intent to assess environmental impacts of Federal projects. “In enacting NEPA, Congress recognized that nearly all Federal activities affect the environment in some way and mandated that before Federal agencies make decisions, they must consider the effects of their actions on the quality of the human environment.” NEPA is administered by the Council on Environmental Quality within the Executive Office of the President.

Although established with good intentions, the reality is that NEPA has turned into a byzantine bureaucratic maze that stifles productivity. For instance, remember a few years ago when President Obama touted “shovel ready projects” to get the economy working again? Well, those “shovel ready projects” were delayed because they had to contend with NEPA. Before a single shovel can hit the dirt it usually takes more than five years for the average Federal project to jump through all the normal environmental hoops. Some private projects take longer, for example the proposed Rosemont Copper project is seven years into the permitting process.

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, notes that permit delays are among the biggest hurdles for mineral development. “The length, complexity and uncertainty of the permitting process are the primary reasons investors give for not investing is U.S. minerals mining. In the U.S., necessary government authorizations now take close to 10 years to secure, resulting in decreased competitiveness and increased reliance on foreign sources of minerals.” Permitting time in Canada and Australia is typically less than two years.

That being said, let’s look at how NEPA should theoretically work. The Council on Environmental Quality has published a Citizen’s Guide to NEPA, which I will summarize with excerpts and comments:

NEPA applies to a very wide range of Federal actions that include, but are not limited to, Federal construction projects, plans to manage and develop Federally owned lands, and Federal approvals of non-Federal activities such as grants, licenses, and permits.

NEPA requires Federal agencies to consider environmental effects that include, among others, impacts on social, cultural, and economic resources, as well as natural resources.

Frequently, private individuals, companies, and municipalities will become involved in the NEPA process when they need a permit issued by a Federal agency. Federal agencies usually require the private company or developer to pay for the preparation of analyses, but the agency remains responsible for the scope and accuracy of the analysis.

Although many Federal agencies get involved, there are three Federal agencies that have particular responsibilities for NEPA. Primary responsibility is vested in the Council on Environmental Quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviews environmental impact statements (EIS) and some environmental assessments (EA) issued by Federal agencies. The third agency is the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (located within the Morris K. Udall Foundation, a Federal agency located in Tucson). This agency is supposed to provide an independent, neutral, place for Federal agencies to work with citizens as well as State, local, and Tribal governments, private organizations, and businesses to reach common ground.

Navigating the NEPA process:

Once the lead Federal agency has received a proposed action, it has three possible actions: it can issue a Categorical Exclusion (CE), require an Environmental Assessment (EA), or require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

A Categorical Exclusion means that the agency has determined that the proposed action will not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment.

In an Environmental Assessment, the purpose is to determine the significance of the environmental effects and to look at alternative means to achieve the agency’s objectives. The EA is intended to be a concise document that (1) briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an EIS; (2) aids an agency’s compliance with NEPA when no environmental impact statement is necessary; and (3) facilitates preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement when one is necessary. The EA process concludes with either a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or a determination to proceed to preparation of an EIS.

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the big, expensive, time-consuming process. A Federal agency must prepare an EIS if it is proposing a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. [In actual practice, a private company such as a mining company prepares a draft EIS and submits it to the Federal agency.] It begins with publication of a Notice of Intent (NOI), stating the agency’s intent to prepare an EIS for a particular proposal. The NOI is published in the Federal Register, and provides some basic information on the proposed action in preparation for the scoping process. The NOI provides a brief description of the proposed action and possible alternatives. It also describes the agency’s proposed scoping process, including any meetings and how the public can get involved.

The next major step in the EIS process is when the agencies submit a draft EIS for public comment. The agency must analyze the full range of direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the preferred alternative, if any, and of the reasonable alternatives identified in the draft EIS.

When the public comment period is finished, the agency analyzes comments, conducts further analysis as necessary, and prepares the final EIS. In the final EIS, the agency must respond to the substantive comments received from other government agencies and from the public.

When it is ready, the agency will publish the final EIS and EPA will publish a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. There is an additional (but rarely used) procedure worth noting: pre-decision referrals to CEQ. This referral process takes place when EPA or another Federal agency determines that proceeding with the proposed action is environmentally unacceptable. If an agency reaches that conclusion, the agency can refer the issue to CEQ within 25 days after the Notice of Availability for the final EIS is issued. CEQ then works to resolve the issue with the agencies concerned. CEQ might also refer the agencies to the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution to try to address the matter before formal elevation.

The end of the process is the Record of Decision (ROD), a document that states what the decision is; identifies the alternatives considered, including the environmentally preferred alternative; and discusses mitigation plans, including any enforcement and monitoring commitments.

What I have described above is the streamlined NEPA process. But we are not done yet. Sometimes a Federal agency is obligated to prepare a supplement to an existing EIS if it makes substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns, or if there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts. An agency may also prepare a supplemental EIS if it determines that doing so will further the purposes of NEPA. A supplemental EIS is prepared in the same way as a draft or final EIS, except that scoping is not required. If a supplement is prepared following a draft EIS, the final EIS will address both the draft EIS and supplemental EIS.

In actual practice, the NEPA process is complicated by lawsuits and sometimes by foot-dragging Federal agencies. There are no statutory time limits imposed upon Federal agencies to complete the NEPA process. The NEPA process is long and complicated, and environmental groups have used this to their advantage to cause delay after delay in the hope that the project would become too expensive to continue. From Enviro Defenders legal handbook: “Though a lawsuit by itself will seldom stop a project, it can serve as an important element of a larger campaign to do so.”

A 2007 Congressional Research Service report notes: “As a procedural statute, the courts have ruled that NEPA does not require agencies to elevate environmental concerns above others. Instead, NEPA requires only that the agency assess the environmental consequences of an action and its alternatives before proceeding. If the adverse environmental effects of the proposed action are adequately identified and evaluated, the agency is not constrained by NEPA from deciding that other benefits outweigh the environmental costs and moving forward with the action.”

It seems that Australia and Canada have found a more efficient way to move forward while addressing environmental issues. The U.S. economy would benefit by taking note of their methods.

If you found it exhausting just reading about NEPA, imaging how it is trying to comply with it.

(This article first appeared in the Arizona Daily Independent.)

See also:

Mining and the bureaucracy

Uncorrected Forest Service errors block marble mine

Forest Service closing in on final Rosemont report

In a meeting for press and legislators on Friday, November 16, Coronado Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch announced that the Forest Service would not be releasing its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Rosemont copper project in December, 2012, as planned. He would not speculate on a new date for the report. The Forest Service released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in October, 2011, and has since received more that 25,000 comments from the public according to Upchurch. Upchurch is being very cautious and thorough to make sure the Forest Service meets its responsibility according to law. At the meeting, both opponents and proponents of the mine expressed frustration on the length of the process.

To begin mining, Rosemont Copper must obtain approvals and permits from local, state, and federal agencies. Rosemont started the process in July, 2006. I commented on this bureaucratic quagmire in my post: Mining and the bureaucracy.

Upchurch attributed the delay to pending action by several agencies:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering listing as endangered, or imposition of critical habitat for the jaguar, ocelot and several other species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service must complete a “section 7 consultation” with FWS before it can issue a decision. Upchurch anticipates a decision from FWS in January or February, 2013. Note that Arizona Game & Fish recommends that FWS withdraw its proposal for jaguar critical habitat (see here), because “conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar’s primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful. Lands in Arizona and New Mexico make up less than one percent of the species’ historic range and are not essential to the conservation of the species.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still considering air quality impact due to particulate matter that may be released by the mining operation. Rosemont will submit updated air quality models this month. It is anticipated that Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will issue its air quality permit in December, which will probably show that Rosemont is in compliance with all state and federal regulations.

The Forest Service must coordinate with the Corps of Engineers concerning impacts on waterways, but this is somewhat of a circular argument since the Corps of Engineers can’t issue an opinion until it sees the Forest Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

There are issues with 11 Indian Tribes. The mine site is alleged to contain up to 80 cultural sites, including burial sites, that must be considered and mitigated according to the National Historic Preservation Act.

Upchurch said that the process is about 85% to 90% complete. That would seem to preclude calls for starting all over again, something which Pima County and Representative Ron Barber have been promoting. Upchurch also said that the water issues are “mostly” resolved. What remains are mitigation for possible impacts to a few nearby water wells. Upchurch sees nothing in the water issue that would preclude the Forest Service from issuing its final report.

At the meeting, one “reporter,” John Dougherty, producer of an attack documentary film against Rosemont, several times commented that Rosemont’s proposed dry stacking method for tailings would result in the largest such dry stacked tailings dump in the world. Dougherty was implying some imagined danger. However, dry stacking of tailings is a much more stable method than conventional wet tailings. It also saves and recycles water. (See my post on dry stacking here.) This is an example of one of the many spurious issues with which Rosemont and the Forest Service have to contend. Dougherty’s comments got no traction from Upchurch.

In general, Upchurch said that as they get more and more information, the information shows that the mining project will have fewer detrimental impacts than some fear or allege.

See reporter Tony Davis’ take on the meeting in the Arizona Daily Star here.

As Tony quoted me in his article: “The process to approve this mine seems endless, and many people are frustrated. ..Maybe it means the laws controlling the process need to be changed.” Indeed, much of the delay is caused by inefficiency and lack of coordination in and among federal agencies. The Rosemont saga is nearing its seventh year in bureaucratic purgatory. Meanwhile, the projected benefits for jobs and our economy remain deferred.

Mining and the bureaucracy

To maintain a healthy economy, our industries need reliable access to raw materials.  The American mining industry helps fill that need by providing good, relatively high-paying jobs and the critical minerals we need to bolster our economy and provide the materials that keep us going.  Yet, government, especially the federal government, seems to put many roadblocks in the way of developing our abundant natural resources.

In Arizona we are witnessing governmental delays in the permitting process for the Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson.  Near the small town of Dragoon, Arizona, a proposed marble mine has been delayed for more than 15 years due to US Forest Service bureaucracy including establishing a Roadless Area which encompasses the quarry site, even though there is a dedicated county road to the quarry.  In Alaska, the EPA is delaying what could be one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world, the Pebble mine, because of some unwarranted concern over salmon.

Some of the permitting delays are due to activists in government and radical environmentalists who don’t want any development.  But much of the delay is caused by inefficiency and lack of coordination in and among federal agencies.

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association notes that permit delays are among the biggest hurdles for mineral development.  “The length, complexity and uncertainty of the permitting process are the primary reasons investors give for not investing is U.S. minerals mining. In the U.S., necessary government authorizations now take close to 10 years to secure, resulting in decreased competitiveness and increased reliance on foreign sources of minerals.”

These bureaucratic delays affect businesses other than mining, because the supply of raw materials gets harder to obtain and more expensive.

This is not just a recent problem, but one that is growing as more and more agencies are embracing “green” or “sustainable” principles.  In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council found that: “The process has become much slower and more costly than was originally intended or than it needs to be. It commonly imposes data collection and analysis requirements on the applicant and the regulatory agency that are poorly coordinated, excessively expensive, and of uneven value in protecting the environment. Mining operators are entitled to a permitting process that is as timely and cost effective as possible while still achieving compliance with all statutes and regulations.”  There has been no improvement since that study.

Quinn notes that “Behre Dolbear, the international consulting firm that advises mining companies globally, has identified the U.S. as having one of the longest permitting processes in the world for mining projects, placing domestic mining investments at a competitive disadvantage.”  It also means  that we will need to import more and more of our minerals.

The US Geological Survey studied domestic permitting and found that “permitting time frames are often lengthy and unpredictable” sometimes taking as long as 17 years and even with an “expedited permitting schedule” taking seven years.

Quinn says that “more efficient permitting does not mean less environmental protection.”  Among the needed reforms in the permitting process are:

Clearly defining the responsibilities of a lead agency to include the establishment of binding time frames, coordination with other agencies and reliance on existing data and reviews.  Limiting the total review process for issuing permits to 30 months unless signatories to the permitting time line agree to an extension. Reduce delays posed by litigation over permitting decisions by requiring challenges to be filed within 60 days of the final agency action.

It’s not just the mining industry that suffers under a bureaucratic bottleneck.  Investor’s Business Daily notes that the Obama administration has issued more regulations than Bush and Clinton combined.  Just the EPA and Department of Transportation have increased the regulatory burden on manufacturing by $142 billion per year.

If you want your automobiles and iPhones, a reliable electricity supply, transportation, and jobs, we need to cut the red tape and make access to and production of the raw materials for industry more efficient and timely.  That can all be done while providing rational environmental protection and in doing so will prove to be a boon to our economy.

See also:

Uncorrected Forest Service errors block marble mine

Why imposing royalties on hard rock mining is a bad idea

Pima County versus Rosemont

Uranium mining ban near Grand Canyon all politics, no science

Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science

Jaguars versus the Rosemont mine

Clean Coal: Boon or Boondoggle?

EPA versus Arizona on regional haze issue

EPA war on coal threatens Tucson water supply

BLM Wild Lands Designation Attempts To Bypass Congress

Politics versus American Energy Security

Do we need the US Forest Service?

We have two major federal agencies that manage federal land, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) under the Agriculture Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Interior Department.  Why do we need both agencies?  As far as I can tell the BLM does everything USFS does and more.  It seems that one of these agencies is redundant.

The USFS manages 193 million acres of federal land using over 30,000 employees and a budget (FY 2011) of $5.38 billion.  That works out to $27.87 per acre managed, $179,333 per employee, and  6,433 acres per employee.

The BLM manages 245 million surface acres, as well as 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, with about 10,000 employees, and a budget (FY 2011) of $1.1 billion.  That works out to $4,49 per acre or counting mineral estate, $1.16 per acre managed, $110,000 per employee, and 24,500 acres per employee or counting mineral estate 94,500 acres per employee.

Maybe looking at just these numbers is not a fair comparison, but it is suggestive that we are getting more for our tax dollars with the BLM.

Both agencies manage theoretically for multiple use, including mining, logging, grazing and recreation. Both agencies manage forests and sell timber.  USFS timber production has dramatically decreased since a peak in the 1980s due in part to the environmental quagmire of law suits and regulations. (See table and graph here.)  I can’t find similar figures for the BLM.

The BLM manages the subsurface mineral rights under National Forests.  Mining claims located on a National Forest must be registered with the BLM not the USFS.  Exploration and mining are subject to 36 CFR 228(A) for USFS land or to 43 CFR 3809 for BLM land.  Why two separate sets of regulations for the same activity?

The Department of the Interior includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.  It would seem to be the logical agency to manage the National Forests.

I propose that the USFS be eliminated and its duties merged into the BLM in the Interior Department.  That may result in more efficient management of our National Forests and elimination of a redundant bureaucracy.

Reorganization is justifiable solely on grounds of efficiency and economics, but there are other considerations.  While the BLM has its faults (due mainly to the current Secretary of the Interior), it is generally easier to work with and approaches things on a more pragmatic and scientific basis.  USFS seems to be guided by eco-extremist doctrine and anti-public attitude.

Even better would be for the feds to turn all national forests over to the states and let them manage the forests according to the local needs and philosophy.



Code V91 07XA burn due to water-skis on fire

From the Federal bureaucracy run amok: Doctors and hospitals use about 18,000 codes to classify their treatments for insurers. Now the federal government is mandating an expanded code which features 140,000 classifications.

See the story in the Wall Street Journal here.

The title of this post is a real new code. Among some others are: W22.02XA, “walked into lamppost, initial encounter;” W22.02XD, “walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter;” and R46.1 “bizarre personal appearance.”

“There codes for injuries received while sewing, ironing, playing a brass instrument, crocheting, doing handcrafts, or knitting…”

The big question: will your insurance pay if the coders accidentally enter a W22.02XD before reporting a W22.02XA?

Is this part of President Obama’s new jobs program for medical coders? Your tax dollars at work.