The U.S. House of Representatives has taken action to encourage more domestic mining of rare earth minerals that are vital to the production of advanced energy technologies.
H.R. 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Mineral Production Act of 2012, was passed last Friday by a vote of 256 to 160. 22 members of the Democratic Party caucus joined the Republican majority with most Democrats standing in opposition.
The bill streamlines the permitting process for mining companies by allowing them to negotiate timetables on reviews as well as expediting the review process. It also allows for less stringent enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act, an environmental law that requires environmental reviews of proposed federal actions.
"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," New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt said.
Bill proponent, and former mining industry representative Republican Mark Amodei, issued a statement saying that the bill would increase predictability and bring more transparency to the permitting process. It would allow the U.S. to leverage its mineral resources while "paying respect to economic and environmental concerns," he added.
"It simply would ask federal land managers to collaborate with all stakeholders in an effort to move the [permitting] process along in two and a half years, as opposed to indefinite timelines."
Rare earths are used to manufacture many staples of the modern world ranging from electronics,, hybrid cars, solar panels, and wind turbines to guided missiles. Rare earth prices have significantly impacted emerging energy markets.
The European Union, Japan, and United States have been locked in a trade dispute with China over export controls that it placed on the minerals. The World Trade OrganizationChina's rare earths rationing in January.
Mining industry representatives, including Los Angeles based American Elements, are urging Senate Democrats to pass the act to help secure the U.S. rare earths supply chain.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)
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