On March 26, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced S. 883, the American Mineral Security Act of 2015. The bill, an update of her previous legislation on this subject, would revitalize the U.S.’ minerals supply chain and help reduce dependence on foreign suppliers. To accomplish this, the bill requires the USGS to establish a list of minerals critical to the American economy and provides a comprehensive set of policies to address issues associated with their discovery, production, use and re-use. To improve the efficiency of the federal permitting process for new mines, the bill includes a series of steps to reduce delays and ensure timely decisions. Murkowski, Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, plans to hold a legislative hearing on it this spring.
NIOSH has issued a report, “Current knowledge of U.S. metal and nonmetal miner health: current and potential data sources for analysis of miner health status,” that characterizes the current health status of U.S. metal and nonmetal miners (MNM). Because substantial gaps exist in the understanding of MNM miners’ current health status, NIOSH plans to develop a health surveillance program for this population to guide intervention efforts to reduce occupational and personal risks for chronic illness. The report can be purchased from NIOSH.
On March 24, the Obama Administration said it would make up to $38 million in grant funding available in the coming month to aid communities hit by the coal mining downturn. This first installment, of already-appropriated funds, will create a series of grants meant to promote economic diversification, job creation and workforce development in Appalachia. The money will come from the Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Small Business Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The new framework, billed as the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) + Plan is meant to address coal field economic woes stemming from energy market changes, including cheap natural gas and the increasing affordability of renewables. The White House expects the first awards this summer.
On March 17, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill: Laying the Foundation for U.S. Economic Growth and Job Creation” regarding reauthorization of the federal surface transportation programs and the perspectives of state and local governments. The Committee continues to develop a long-term surface transportation bill that improves America’s infrastructure and competitiveness, provides economic growth, and helps create jobs. The current extension of surface transportation law will expire at the end of May. The panel consisted of Patrick McCrory, Governor, State of North Carolina, on behalf of the National Governors Association; Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah, on behalf of the National League of Cities; and John Cox, Director, Wyoming Department of Transportation; on behalf of AASHTO.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced the leadership for his full Committee and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Full Committee Vice Chair is John Duncan (R-TN). Sam Graves (R-MO) will chair the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit has responsibility for the development of national surface transportation policy, construction and improvement of highway and transit facilities, implementation of safety and research programs, and regulation of commercial motor vehicle operations. Within this scope of responsibilities, the Subcommittee has jurisdiction over many U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) programs. The foremost legislative product of the Subcommittee is the reauthorization of the Federal surface transportation programs.
In a February 23 letter to the leadership of the National Minerals Information Center (NMIC), SME, along with thirteen other professional societies and trade associations, offered support for the USGS’s work regarding responsible development and consumption of minerals and raw materials that underpin every sector of the U.S. economy. SME is co-founder of the Minerals Science and Information Coalition (MSIC), of which the signatories of this letter are members. The MSIC supports NMIC’s 2015 initiatives and urges development of USGS’s mineral forecasting capabilities.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced that Dr. Kwame Awuah-Offei has been named to the position of SEC academic fellow. He will assist the agency staff in its review of mining company disclosure requirements.
In 2012, SME filed a petition for rulemaking with the SEC to amend and update the disclosure requirements of Industry Guide 7 but was told that the SEC lacked the manpower to begin work on the rulemaking. The SEC turned to SME to help locate an academic fellow to take a one-year sabbatical to work on this issue in the SEC's office in Washington, D.C.
On February 13, 2015, the SEC announced the appointment of Dr. Awuah-Offei. Dr. Awuah-Offei will work in the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, which is reviewing whether the agency should update and modernize mining company disclosure requirements in Regulation S-K and requirements contained in Industry Guide 7.
He is associate professor of mining engineering at Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, MO, as academic fellow where he teaches graduate and undergraduate mining engineering courses including geostatistics, surface mine design, environmental aspects of mining, simulation of mining systems and optimization applications in mining. He is also a registered professional engineer and a long-time member of SME, serving on several committees.
Dr. Awuah-Offei earned his Ph.D. in mining engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla and his BS in mining engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He has received many awards and commendations for outstanding teaching over several years. His research, which primarily focuses on applications of numerical techniques in mining including geostatistics, has been presented in multiple publications. He has successfully mentored graduate students and new faculty in performing substantial research that has been presented in more than 45 publications. In addition to his academic qualifications, Awuah-Offei has significant mining industry experience working as a mine engineer and consultant.
For more information, contact the SEC public affairs office at email@example.com.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration launched two new online tools on Feb. 25 to assist operators, miners, MSHA and others in tracking violations of standards commonly associated with mining deaths and frequently found by federal mine inspectors in examinations of underground coal mines. The latest tools enhance other web-based methods MSHA offers the mining industry to operate more safely. These include tools to monitor a mine’s compliance history, such as determining its eligibility for a Pattern of Violations or the number of significant and substantial violations issued in a given time period after a corrective action plan is put into place.
The mining industry is hosting cooperative mine safety and health training workshops around the nation to increase awareness of mining hazards. Safety professionals from mining companies, associations, and MSHA will share information and experiences in dealing with mining hazards. These Spring Thaw opportunities coincide with winter's end, when many intermittently operated mining operations begin producing again, often with new employees who may be new to the mining environment. Statistics show accidents tend to increase during April and May. This educational outreach effort is designed to assist the mining industry in improving safety and health. The seminars are not MSHA sponsored.
On Feb 13, Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation (HR 963) to reform the Mining Law of 1872 by adding an 8 percent royalty for new projects and a 4 percent royalty for existing mines. Proceeds would be used to help clean up abandoned mine sites; however, coal-mining companies already pay such a fee. The mining industry has not opposed reform outright. They have proposed a net proceeds calculation for royalties rather than gross proceeds. The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.
On Feb 11, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, introduced legislation, H.R. 896, to prevent EPA from vetoing Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Act permits before or after the permitting process. The legislation comes in direct response to EPA's retroactive veto of a large coal mine in West Virginia and potential pre-permitting limits to the Pebble gold and copper mine in Alaska. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
On January 26, EPA formally published its long-awaited proposal to boost oversight of in-situ uranium mining, with comments due April 27. The rule would add new health and environmental protection standards to regulations promulgated under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 and set standards for companies to study affected water resources before moving forward with in-situ extraction. It would also require a certain amount of restoration. The National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute oppose the proposed rule saying it will force the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or states that regulate uranium mining and milling to change their own standards, spending more money than it's worth.
The president's fiscal 2016 budget blueprint would give MSHA almost $395 million, a roughly 5 percent increase from the current funding level of $375.9 million. MSHA budget has been relatively flat in recent years. The increases include $8 million for coal mines, $1 million for standards development, and $4 million for educational policy and development. The White House budget also allows the agency to reallocate some funding to help pay for inspectors or investigations. The budget proposal will be taken into consideration by Congress. Fiscal year 2016 runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
On February 5, the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement published a final rule that provides liability protections to states wanting to use coal reclamation dollars for the non-coal cleanups. This final rule allows states and Indian tribes that have certified completion of all known coal abandoned mine land reclamation needs within their jurisdiction to receive limited liability protection for certain non-coal reclamation projects. The protections will be available only for states certified to have finished their coal cleanups, but that still get funding based on a formula developed during the 2006 amendments to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
The $1.2 billion 2016 USGS budget provides a $9.6 million increase in energy and mineral resource programs that includes critical minerals such as rare earth elements and to the environmental impacts of uranium mining. Specifically, the budget includes a program increase of $1 million for mineral resources science to continue life-cycle analysis for critical minerals such as rare earth elements and to develop new science and tools to reduce the impacts of minerals extraction, production, and recycling on the global environment and human health. A life-cycle analysis will trace the flow of critical minerals from generation and occurrence through the consequences of human activity to ultimate disposition and disposal.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has announced a final rule that will require operators of underground coal mines to equip continuous mining machines with proximity detection systems. It was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 15 and will become effective 60 days thereafter. These systems can be programmed to send warning signals and stop machines before they injure or kill miners working in the confined space of an underground coal mine.
During the 113th Congress, the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee worked to ensure a reliable supply of critical minerals and protect U.S. coal production. The House passed H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, which would allow the U.S. to more efficiently develop strategic and critical minerals and streamline the permitting process for mineral development. In November 2013, the House passed. H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act, that would save American jobs and taxpayer dollars by preventing the Obama Administration from imposing their rewrite of the 2008 Steam Buffer Zone Rule, which would cost 7,000 jobs. The National Defense Authorization Act also included the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) it will open up the third largest undeveloped copper resource in the world – supporting nearly 3,700 American jobs and producing enough copper to meet 25 percent of current U.S. demand.
HR 83, the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015” was signed into law on December 16, 2014, thus enacting funding levels for the USGS for fiscal year 2015. The USGS received a 1.3 percent increase ($13.0 million) to $1.045 billion. The Natural Hazards program received the largest increase of $6.7 million, while Energy, Minerals and Environmental Health only received $800,000.
Now that the dust has settled after the mid-term elections, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee and the House Natural Resource Committees, two of the primary committees with jurisdiction over mining and mineral legislation, have finalized their committee assignments and leadership for the coming year. With the flip in the Senate to Republican control, the ENR Committee will be led by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the ranking member will be Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Joe Manchin (D-WV) retains his slot as chair of the ENR subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining. On the House side, Rob Bishop (R-UT) will chair the full committee and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) returns as chair of the subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Resources. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will assume the position of ranking member on the full committee.
Global demand for coal over the next five years will grow at an average rate of 2.1% per year through 2019, breaking 9-billion tons, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report, released December 15. The report notes that despite China's efforts to moderate its coal consumption, it will still account for three-fifths of demand growth during the outlook period. Moreover, China will be joined by India, ASEAN countries and other countries in Asia as the main engines of growth in coal consumption, offsetting declines in Europe and the U.S.
On Dec. 12, Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) introduced legislation that would tap U.S. multinational corporations' earnings held overseas to help pay for a six-year highway and transit bill. The Infrastructure and Global Tax Competitiveness Act, H.R. 5857, seeks to eliminate the incentive for corporations to continue to hold accumulated earnings offshore, to invest in domestic infrastructure, and to provide for international tax reform. Specifically, the bill would impose a mandatory 8.75 percent repatriation tax on such earnings, compared with the current 35 percent threshold for corporate income, according to a news release. In all, the plan would raise between $150 billion and $175 billion over six years, according to an estimate from Delaney's office. Of that sum, up to $125 billion would go to the Highway Trust Fund. The proceeds would also finance a $50 billion infrastructure fund that could be used by state and local governments to leverage $750 billion for other projects in such areas as transportation, water and energy.
During the week of Dec 8, the House and Senate passed the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a massive package of public lands bills that allows a swap of mine lands for federal lands in Arizona that will benefit Rio Tinto’s Resolution Copper project near Superior. The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act (H.R. 687) was part of the NDAA and passed both Houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support. Passage of the legislation means that Resolution Copper can move forward with the development of this world-class ore body which will create approximately 3,700 jobs, generate over $60 billion in economic impact and result in almost $20 billion in state and federal tax payments. It will become law as soon as President Barack Obama signs it. Rio Tinto will take possession of the land a year later.
On December 11, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5742, the Soledad Canyon Settlement Act, that directs the Secretary of the Interior to cancel Bureau of Land Management mineral contracts owned by global aggregates producer Cemex, who was hoping to open a sand and gravel operation near Soledad Canyon, California. The BLM would be required to sell federal land near Victorville and use the proceeds from the sale to compensate Cemex for its contracts. A similar bill was introduced Nov 18 in the Senate. The city of Santa Clarita has been battling the Cemex mine for about 15 years. Both bills would also prohibit future mining on the site.
In a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2014, coal demand is expected to be 15 percent by 2040 and growth will slow significantly after 2020. Further, they estimate demand will peak in China, drop by a third in the United States but keep growing in India. IEA predicts renewables to be the world’s leading fuel for energy production by 2040.
On November 12, SME joined with 375 trade associations, professional societies and chambers of commerce from 50 states representing a wide range of industries to voice strong concerns with the EPA and the Corps of Engineers’ proposed rule to dramatically expand the scope of federal authority over water and land uses across the U.S. Further, the letter called for the proposal to be withdrawn. The “Waters of the U.S. “ proposal would allow federal jurisdiction over intentionally created waters located in upland areas at mine sites. Diversion ditches that redirect storm water runoff around mine sites would become “tributaries” under the proposal. In addition, it would expand federal jurisdiction over waters from 3.5 million river and stream miles to well over 8 million river and stream miles, affecting many sand and gravel operations. This effort was led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and retained control of the House of Representatives as a result of the Nov 4 elections. This bodes well for the mining industry as pro-coal lawmaker Mitch McConnell (R-KY) becomes Senate majority leader and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) may now chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski is an advocate of responsible mine development and may push for hearings on stalled Senate bills related to critical and strategic minerals. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who replaces long time Senator Jay Rockefeller, is also a pro-coal advocate and has been helpful to SME in pushing the SEC to initiate a rulemaking on standardizing Industry Guide 7 on resource and reserves. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources retained his seat, as did pro-mining Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Mike Coffman (R-CO); all three have addressed the SME members and Board in the last two years. In a nod to the aggregates industry, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will likely chair the Environment and Public Works Committee, that holds the key to stalled long-term infrastructure investment bills. In Governor races, western mining states either held or gained Republican control. Montana elected Rep. Steve Daines Governor, Idaho Governor Butch Otter retained his seat as did Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, and Arizona elected State Treasurer Doug Ducey to Governor.
Starting in 2013, MSHA set aside Oct 30 as Mine Rescue Day to recognize the dedication and sacrifice of the volunteers who form the backbone of our national response in the event of a mining emergency. The date was chosen for its historic significance. On Oct. 30, 1911, the first national mine rescue demonstration was held at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, PA. It was organized by Dr. Joseph A. Holmes, a visionary in mine safety and the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Among the 15,000 spectators was President William Howard Taft. Also on this date in 2013, the national Holmes Mine Rescue Association was formed to provide support and guidance for mine rescue and serve as a vehicle to disseminate guidelines, training and tools to the mining community. MSHA’s review of mine emergency response has led to a new mine rescue response station in Madisonville, KY to serve the Midwest; improvements in the agency’s mobile response vehicles and command center equipment; the staging of mock mine emergencies with mining companies; revisions to the criteria for mine rescue team certification to include hands on skills training; and an overhaul of the national mine rescue training contests with greater stakeholder participation. As of November 4, 2014 MSHA has recorded 33 fatalities year-to-date, including 13 in coal and 20 in metal/non-metal.
SME, and a nationwide coalition of mining, agriculture, manufacturing, commercial, industrial and government groups, are calling on the EPA to withdraw its proposed rule that would greatly expand federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to areas of the land not previously subject to regulation, including isolated upland areas, intentionally created waters at mine sites, and intermittent and ephemeral streams that are inferred to have a tenuous surface or groundwater connection to true waters of the U.S. The proposal would give federal agencies direct authority over land use decisions that Congress has intentionally preserved to the States. Final comments are available for your review. A one-page summary sheet can be found here.
On August 1, MSHA’s new dust rule, “Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors,” went into effect. According to the agency’s analysis of 7,456 valid samples obtained from coal mines, 99 percent met compliance levels. The rule substantially increases operator sampling for respirable coal mine dust and requires an operator to take immediate corrective action when an operator’s sample shows excessive concentrations. The final rule authorizes MSHA to cite an operator based on a single MSHA sample showing excessive dust, rather than on an average of samples. MSHA will host a series of workshops on “Best Practices for Controlling Respirable Dust in Coal Mines,” the first of which will take place on Oct. 28, at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beaver, WV. Additional workshops will be held in Birmingham, AL; Evansville, IN; and Grand Junction, CO, in 2015.
|Members of Congress Question the Interior Department’s Bias & Lack of Transparency with Federal Sage Grouse Science
||SME eNews - October, 2014
On October 16, 2014, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04), Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01), and 16 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell expressing ongoing concerns with the Department’s potential future listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Specifically, the letter notes concerns with the Department’s closed-door and seemingly selective process for evaluating relevant data and science, and failure to adequately coordinate with affected states that are developing their own data and conservation efforts to avoid the need for a listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the ESA.
A broad coalition of highway users, construction sector groups, and the general business community have come out strongly opposed to the Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), which has been introduced in the Senate and the House, that would effectively eliminate the federal highway program by devolving the tasks of maintaining and funding all surface transportation to the states. The bill would reduce funding for the federal-aid highway program by more than 80 percent by 2019, leaving states with the primary responsibility of maintaining the nation’s highways. In some cases, state governments would have to raise their gas tax by as much as 30 cents to make up the difference. The bill would virtually eliminate the federal government’s constitutionally mandated role in promoting interstate commerce. The legislation was offered in Senate as an amendment to the Highway Trust Fund patch approved in July. While it didn’t garner sufficient support for adoption, 28 Republican senators voted in favor of the amendment. Construction groups opposed to this bill have demanded passage of a long-term surface transportation bill before funding for the program expires in May 2015.
On Sept 30, a federal judge upheld EPA's 2011 retroactive Clean Water Act permit veto of Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce No. 1 mountaintop coal mine in West Virginia. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected Arch's arguments against the court's veto decision, which the judge deemed "reasonable, supported by the record and based on considerations within the agency's purview." This litigation has spanned four years, while Arch has sought the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit for Spruce for more than a decade. Arch had argued that the permit was legally issued by the Corps of Engineers before EPA used its veto authority to reverse the Corps decision. The company said it still believed EPA's actions were arbitrary and capricious and that it was weighing its next steps with regard to the litigation. Also, Arch conceded that legislation may be the best remedy for this situation.
On Sept 25, MSHA awarded $1 million through its Brookwood-Sago grants program to seven organizations that provide education and training within the mining industry. The funding will be used to develop and implement training and related materials for mine emergency preparedness, as well as for the prevention of accidents in all underground mines. The Colorado School of Mines is receiving $183,552 in funding focused on the development of advanced mine rescue skills using multiple training modalities. This includes preshift and on-shift mine examiner training in support of small mine rescue teams in Colorado. The University of Arizona is receiving $136,906 in grant funding for improving miner preparedness and in-emergency resiliency using multiplayer emergency response simulations. The Pennsylvania State University is receiving $109,917 to develop an education and training toolbox for coal mine rescue instructors and mine rescue team members.
On September 18, Representatives David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced a bill, “The Healthy Employee Loss Prevention Act of 2014,” that would establish a worker assistance program to provide job retraining and relocation for workers who have lost their jobs due to unplanned closure of coal and coal dependent industries. Under the McKinley-Welch bill, workers would be eligible for government assistance is their coal job loss is related to a variety of factors including alternative fuels and government regulations. Workers would receive benefits for up to one year and could apply for a one year extension. The Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of unions and environmental groups, praised the legislation. The lawmakers said their legislation is modeled after the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act which helps U.S. workers who have been displaced by foreign trade.
The National Mining Association commissioned SNL Metals & Mining to conduct a study that demonstrates the extent to which minerals produced in the U.S. contribute to the domestic manufacturing industries. The report documents domestic supply and demand chains for the U.S. mined commodities and their contribution to the manufacturing sector. Key minerals highlighted included copper, gold, iron ore, molybdenum, platinum group-metals, rare earths, silver and zinc.
In a report from AEMA, the Pebble Limited Partnership, owner of the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine in Alaska, has filed suit against EPA over the agency’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment claiming it is a flawed and biased study with a predetermined outcome, developed by the agency to intentionally block the Pebble project. PLP states that the full extent of this biased endeavor is likely not known as there are significant gaps and extensive redactions to the material publicly released under Freedom of Information Act request filed by PLP.
On Sept 9, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5078, the Waters of the U.S. Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014, with a bipartisan vote of 262-152. The bill prevents the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from expanding their regulatory jurisdiction over ponds, streams and ditches currently regulated by the states, and often located in or near mining operations. H.R. 5078 requires the agencies to conduct a transparent consultation with state and local officials to develop a consensus about which waters should be under federal jurisdiction. The bill was introduced in reaction to a rule proposed by these federal agencies to revise the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the federal Clean Water Act. The president has made it clear that he would veto this bill.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell in Phoenix said he would rule in two weeks on a 20-year ban on the filing of new mining claims near the Grand Canyon. Representatives of NMA, AEMA, and other mining interests appeared before the federal judge on Sept 9 to argue on a motion of summary judgment on a lawsuit originally filed in 2012, after former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012 announced a 20-year ban on new mining claims that covered more than 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park. The region surrounding Grand Canyon National Park is believed to contain as much as 40% of the known U.S. uranium resources.
The House of Representatives passed HR 4315, the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act with a bipartisan vote of 233-190. This legislation, which has not been reauthorized since 1988, requires data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible through the internet; requires the best available scientific and commercial data used by the federal government to incorporate data provided by states, tribes, and local county governments; requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online the federal taxpayer funds used to respond to ESA lawsuits, the number of employees dedicated to ESA litigation, and attorneys’ fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
On August 15, SME submitted comments to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding their request for information about critical and strategic materials supply chains and their importance to American prosperity and national security. SME’ focused on the role of maintaining an adequate pipeline of qualified graduates and teachers at U.S. mining schools in order to provide the necessary technical skills needed to maintain the supply chain of critical and strategic minerals. SME’s position is reflected in the March 2013 SME technical briefing paper, “Federal Support for U.S. Mining Schools.” Mining and geological engineering, mineral processing, extractive metallurgy and applied geology and geophysics programs at our universities are national assets that are critical to maintain and encourage the growth of the U.S. energy and minerals workforce. These programs suffer from dwindling federal reinvestment and R&D funding. Without an adequate pipeline of qualified graduates and faculty at U.S. universities, the nation is at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the production of basic raw materials and energy. Workforce availability has become a significant problem for the domestic mining industries.
On July 23, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing, “American Metals and Mineral Security: An Examination of the Domestic Critical Minerals Supply and Demand Chain," that addressed the need for timely and environmentally responsible development of the U.S. supplies of strategic and critical minerals to create good-paying mining jobs, boost local economies, and provide security to America’s economy. This hearing underscored the need for Senate action on H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, which passed the House last September and would allow the U.S. to more efficiently develop its strategic and critical minerals that are vital to America’s economic competitiveness. Testimony was offered from representatives from GE, Doe Run, SNL Metals and Minerals, Idaho National labs and the National Defense Industrial Association.
The Senate appropriations committee released a draft $30.7 billion fiscal 2015 spending bill to fund the Interior Department, EPA and the Forest Service that cuts the Office of Surface Mining’s budget by $6.6 million from the previous year. The Senate bill comes weeks after the House Appropriations Committee passed its own $30.22 billion fiscal 2015 spending bill for the agencies, a bill that contained various policy riders seeking to weaken President Obama's climate and environmental goals. The Senate spending proposal would give the Dept of Interior's Office of Surface Mining $116 million for regulation and technology. In contrast, House Republicans want to give OSM $121 million but limit its ability to promulgate the forthcoming stream protection rule. The Senate spending bill would provide $28.7 million for the abandoned mine reclamation fund, a $1.3 million boost from current levels. The House would leave the line item mostly untouched. Among the House bill's many policy riders are provisions that would block EPA from requiring power plants to lower carbon dioxide emissions and from increasing the number of streams and wetlands that get automatic protection under the Clean Water Act.
In an effort to limit mountain top coal removal activities, the EPA has proposed non-binding Clean Water Act guidelines for selenium that are slightly weaker than the selenium standards EPA tried, but failed, to adopt in 2004. Environmental groups have filed numerous lawsuits against coal companies over their pollution discharges and are attempting to use EPA’s selenium standards as new legal limits to force closure of mountain top mines. The new selenium guidelines are generally supported by industry as they welcome EPA's decision to put more emphasis on fish tissue selenium concentrations that are toxicologically and ecologically relevant in enforcing water quality standards.
Mining fatalities in the U.S. have spiked in the first half of 2014, according to recent statistics from MSHA. 25 miners have died year-to-date, compared to 18 in the first half of 2013, and 19 in the first half of 2012. Eight coal miners died during the first half of 2014. The other 17 deaths were in the metal and nonmetal mining sector. The majority of the mining deaths have been caused from accidents involving heavy equipment and machinery. Other miners died from falling, and/or being hit by heavy objects, explosions or drowning. A total of 42 fatalities were recorded in 2013. MSHA issued a statement, “Mining fatalities are preventable, and they are a reminder that much more needs to be done to protect the nation’s miners. These deaths should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to keep safety at the forefront at all times.”
On August 6, SME issued its latest technical briefing paper, "The Safe and Effective use of Cyanide in the Mining Industry.” This paper, the 14th in the series, provides a general overview on the use, proper management and control of cyanide and its application to recover gold from ore.
On July 18, EPA proposed restrictions on development of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska that may ultimately prevent the mine from operating. Acting under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which empowers EPA to limit the Army Corps of Engineers' permitting of dredge-and-fill projects in U.S. waters, the agency stopped short of an outright veto of the Pebble mine but proposed restrictions likely to make its development difficult, if not impossible. EPA, which has been formally deciding whether to take action against the Pebble mine since February, released a proposed determination prohibiting the loss of 5 or more miles of salmon-bearing streams and any activities that would alter flows in salmon streams that would result in the loss of 1,100 acres or more of wetlands, lakes and ponds that connect with salmon-bearing streams. EPA's Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment found that a major open-pit mining project such as that discussed by Pebble developers would destroy between 24 and 94 salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes.
In an effort to help garner bipartisan political support for changes to Industry Guide 7, the SEC’s basic disclosure policy for US mining companies, SME and the National Mining Association garnered signatures from 13 members of the House Financial Services Committee on a July 7 letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White urging the Commission to update IG7 as quickly as possible to avoid further competitive disadvantage for US companies. To-date the SEC refuses to allow US mining companies to report Minerals Resources as well as Mineral Reserves thus forcing companies to underreport the possible value of a mining company to potential investors. This letter is a direct result of the SEC’s inaction on the SME petition filed in October of 2012 asking for a public and transparent notice-and-comment rulemaking process to update IG7.
On July 11, in a unanimous decision that reversed a lower court ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with EPA in a broad challenge from Kentucky and West Virginia and the NMA and upheld current administration policies that address the environmental effects of mountaintop mining on waterways. In June 2009, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers adopted an "enhanced coordination process" that allowed EPA to screen Section 404 dredge-and-fill permit applications before the corps approved them. Two years later, EPA issued a "final guidance" that required state authorities to impose more restrictive discharge requirements on federal water permits for mining operations. Industry groups challenged both policies, arguing that they exceeded EPA's statutory authority and amounted to new regulations that required public notice and comment periods. The court opinion states, "In our view, EPA and the Corps acted within their statutory authority when they adopted the Enhanced Coordination Process. And under our precedents, the Final Guidance is not final agency action reviewable by the courts at this time."
On July 10, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation to dramatically reform the Mining Law of 1872. DeFazio's proposal would create an 8 percent royalty on gross income from new mines and a 4 percent royalty on income from existing mines. Small operators would be exempt. Further, it would direct royalty dollars to abandoned hardrock mine cleanup. The bill would enact a new 7-cent-per-ton fee on material displaced during mining for the same purpose. Another aspect of DeFazio's bill provides protections for good Samaritans. Also, the bill would make new lands, including wilderness study areas, off-limits to hardrock mining and would make it easier for federal regulators to deny hardrock mining permits. It would also create new bonding requirements. Natural Resources Committee Democrats released a report to accompany the legislation, which says 46 top mines produced more than $9 billion in minerals and would have paid $380 million in royalties during 2012 and 2013 under the bill.
In a June 25 letter to House and Senate leadership, SME, and 32 other national trade associations and professional societies, called for Congress to take significant and immediate steps to pass stalled critical and strategic minerals legislation that would benefit the mining-to-materials supply chain in the energy, transportation, agriculture, infrastructure and other sectors of the U.S. economy. Specifically, the letter requests congressional action that would curtail foreign dependency, reduce permitting delays, update geologic databases, bolster research and encourage efficient use of critical and strategic minerals. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued the following statement upon receiving the SME/coalition letter: “This letter puts nearly 40 groups and organizations on record as supporting not just their members, but our nation’s security, competitiveness, and future growth. I thank them for their support and commend their continued engagement on this issue. I also agree with them. This is the perfect time to update our nation’s mineral policies. We have bipartisan and cost-neutral legislation that is ready to be considered. We have no reason to wait, or to forgo the tremendous benefits that critical minerals legislation would provide throughout our economy.”
Roof and rib failures are a leading cause of injuries in underground coal mines, according to MSHA. During 2013, 265 miners were injured in roof and rib falls, down from 377 in 2012. Every year, MSHA undertakes a Preventive Roof/Rib Outreach Program to increase awareness among miners and mine operators of the hazards of roof and rib falls. The 2014 campaign, which runs through September, will focus on conditions specific to the summer months. MSHA has developed informational posters, hard hat stickers and lists of best practices, which will be distributed to miners and mine operators during normal inspections. The information also will be used by MSHA inspectors during safety talks with operators and groups of working miners. In addition, MSHA inspectors are distributing an Accident Prevention Alert that lists best practices to prevent roof and rib accidents related specifically to retreat mining.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. coal production during first quarter 2014 totaled 242.3 million short tons. This was 1.3% higher than the previous quarter, but 1.1% lower than first quarter 2013. First quarter 2014 U.S. coal exports (27.7 million short tons) dropped 12.9% from first quarter 2013, but remained consistent with exports in fourth quarter 2013. U.S. coal consumption totaled 248.6 million short tons in first quarter 2014; this was 10.0% higher than the 226.1 million short tons reported in fourth quarter 2013 and 8.5% higher than the 229.0 million short tons reported in first quarter 2013.
In a landmark ruling, a West Virginia federal court judge faulted subsidiaries of Alpha Natural Resources Inc. for affecting the conductivity levels of regulated waters and, as a result, hurting aquatic life. EPA and environmental groups have been pressing for years for the use of conductivity- the measure of how well waters carry an electric charge - as a barometer of environmental health. In the ruling the court sided with environmental groups and declared that discharges from the coal mine adversely affected the conductivity of the receiving waters and was therefore in violation of their state and federal permits. Mining companies and some state regulators have argued that conductivity is not a pollutant. They cite a 2012 U.S. District Court ruling against an EPA guidance document setting suggested conductivity levels for waterways near Appalachian coal mines. An appeals court ruling is forthcoming.
More than 184 national and state associations and organizations representing agriculture, construction, house, manufacturing, utilities, energy production and transportation have joined U.S. mining groups in their support of legislation to be introduced in the U.S. House to curtail EPA’s efforts to expand its authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Congressmen Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Nick Rahall (D-WV), announced their intent to introduce legislation “to reign in EPA’s preemptive veto authority over Clean Water Act permits. In a June 5th letter to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, these organizations declared, “It is vital that, once companies receive their permits, the companies - as well as the investors - can rely on those permits not to be revoked at any time for any reason. Finally, it is extremely important that EPA and the Corps not be permitted to arrogate authority to themselves that Congress never intended.” EPA issued a retroactive veto in 2011 to Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia and are considering a preemptive veto of the Pebble mine in Alaska.
On May 27, SME and a coalition of geoscience organizations, sent this letter to all legislative directors, chief of staffs and science/space legislative assistants in the House of Representatives seeking Congressional support for strong funding levels for geosciences, including finding and maintaining adequate supplies of minerals and natural resources. Subsequently, on May 30, the House voted 321-87 to pass the “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015” that are the appropriations bills for the federal science agencies for FY 2015, including the National Science Foundation.
On May 29, the Securities and Exchange Commission asked federal judges to reconsider their decision striking down a rule requiring companies to disclose whether their products contained conflict minerals. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld most of that rule which the commission promulgated under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation. However, the D.C. Circuit struck down the requirement that companies state on their websites that components of their goods may have originated in the DRC. The court held that such a provision violates the First Amendment by forcing companies to make disclosures. The SEC has asked the D.C. Circuit for a rehearing after the D.C. Circuit decides on a similar case involving a requirement that food packaging labels include the country of origin for the meat in the product. The SEC said that case may affect the important constitutional questions addressed by the court’s First Amendment ruling in this case.
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is considering a legal challenge by a subsidiary of Patriot Coal to MSHA’s use of the controversial Pattern of Violations (POV) designation for mines with repeated significant and substantial violations. Last year MSHA streamlined the process for putting mines under the POV program and Patriot's Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, W.Va., was one of the first that MSHA selected. In January, Chief Administrative Law Judge Robert Lesnick ruled in MSHA's favor saying, "The (MSHA) Secretary has established that his revised POV rule is a prosecutorial tool he has used to identify (operators) critically in need of improvement in its approach to ensuring the health and safety of its miners.” Brody is now seeking appellate review by the full commission.
| New Mexico national monument designation takes energy and mining development off the table
||SME eNews - May, 2014
On May 21, president Obama signed a proclamation setting aside 496,000 acres of public lands in southern New Mexico from future energy development or mining. Using the Antiquities Act, Obama will create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument, his 11th and largest national monument to date that still allows access for hunting, recreation and ranching. It also marks Obama's first monument opposed by the local congressman. Rep. Steven Pearce (R-NM) has long criticized the president's use of the Antiquities Act and is pushing his own bill to designate a smaller, 55,000-acre national monument.
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed amendments to its internal directives and Best Management Plans to address groundwater quality and protection with respect to minerals management on National Forest Service lands (see page 61). The USFS is proposing that authorizations for minerals or energy development comply with the requirements of the Underground Injection Control Program, clarify that groundwater use for mining is discretionary and must be addressed through the mining plan of operations, and evaluate and monitor both potential and existing mines as potential sources of groundwater contamination. Additionally, plans of operation for proposed mines will be required to include appropriate operating procedures, facility designs, bonding and groundwater monitoring. Likewise, the agency will recommend to leasing and permitting agencies appropriate lease terms, design modifications and approval conditions to protect groundwater resources on NFS lands. Comments on the proposed groundwater management directive are due by Aug. 4. Comments on the proposed national BMPs are due by July 7, 2014.
On May 14, EPA announced the release of the external peer review draft, Aquatic Life Ambient Water Quality Criterion for Selenium. Selenium is naturally occurring and can be released to the environment by coal mining, coal-fired power plants and phosphate mining, among others. Selenium is a bioaccumulative pollutant. These guidelines are not a rulemaking but a nonbinding guidance for states in adopting water quality standards that ultimately provide a basis for assessing water body health and controlling discharges or releases of pollutants. For mining operations, the recommended 30-day average concentration of selenium in flowing water should not exceed 4.8 mg/L and 1.3 mg/L in standing waters more than once in three years on average. The public comment period ends on June 13. Scientific views can be submitted via email to EPA at firstname.lastname@example.org, attention docket # EPA–HQ–OW– 2004–0019.
Some good news for the infrastructure-dependent aggregates industry; on May 15, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, known as the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, that would fund projects through fiscal year 2020. No announcement has been made about when the full Senate will consider the bill. Following the markup meeting the next step is to find a way to fund the bill. There has been concern about funding transportation projects, especially because the primary source of funding - the Highway Trust Fund which funds most state and local projects - is projected to become insolvent by late August, at least a month before the current highway bill, MAP-21, expires.
The Bureau of Land Management provided notice of its plans to develop rules to control methane releases from mining operations on public lands in the April 29 edition of the Federal Register. Methane makes up nearly 9 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions; roughly 10 percent of methane emissions come from active or closed underground coal mines, surface coal mines, and post-mining operations. The rulemaking also aims to protect miners who may be exposed to methane if it is not vented. Industry representatives and environmentalists alike expressed interest in developing a solution that reduces methane emissions while protecting the safety of workers. BLM’s notice of proposed rulemaking includes a request for comments on potential methods and technologies for methane reductions that are due by June 30, 2014.
Despite the legal uncertainties, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is moving forward with implementing the conflict minerals rule. In April the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down parts of the conflict minerals rule that would have required companies to publicly disclose whether their products may have minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The three-judge panel, however, upheld other parts of the rule requiring companies to conduct certain due diligence of their supply chain and report to the SEC. On April 29, the SEC released a short guidance statement to clarify that, despite ongoing legal uncertainty, it expected companies to comply with the June 2 reporting deadline. "For those companies that are required to file a Conflict Minerals Report, the report should include a description of the due diligence that the company undertook," said the guidance from Keith Higgins, SEC's corporation finance director.
On May 2, EPA released a proposed rule to reform Clean Air Act rules for uranium mining and milling facilities. Current rules have different radon emission standards for facilities built after and before 1989. Pre-1989 facilities have numeric limits on radon emissions. Post-1989 facilities, on the other hand, have to control radon through limits on impoundments and other waste disposal requirements. The new proposal would create a unified standard and scrap numeric radon limits for those pre-1989 facilities. Instead, the agency will rely on uniform requirements for generally available control technology to achieve compliance. The proposal would apply to all uranium recovery and management facilities, including conventional mills and in-situ leach extraction facilities. In recent months, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued licenses for two uranium mining projects, Powertech Uranium Corp.'s Dewey-Burdock project in South Dakota and Strata Energy Inc.'s Ross uranium mining project in Wyoming.
On May 1, the Senate confirmed Janice Schneider as the Interior Department's assistant secretary for land and minerals management on a 64-32 vote. This position has been filled the last three years by others in acting positions. In her position Schneider will oversee oil and gas, coal, and renewable energy development on federal lands and waters. She replaces acting secretary Tommy Beaudreau, who is director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, will soon become DOI secretary Sally Jewell's chief of staff. While Schneider only needed 51 votes to be confirmed, the tight roll call suggests it could be even more difficult to muster the votes to confirm Rhea Suh as Interior assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks.
According to MSHA, through April 28, there have been a total of 13 fatalities in the mining industry; ten in metal/nonmetal and three in coal. MSHA convened a meeting of mine industry stakeholders on May 5 at MSHA headquarters in Arlington, Va. to address the causes of recent spike in deaths, identify actions needed to prevent them and work to reverse the trend. There were 42 fatalities in 2013, which is the highest number of mining deaths since 2010. "The recent news on the rise in mining fatalities is disturbing," said Joseph A. Main, MSHA’s assistant secretary. "It is clear that, at some of the operations involved, basic health and safety protections are not always in place," Main said. "MSHA will provide operators with specific information on the causes and particular issues surrounding each of these deaths, and we will discuss actions needed to prevent these types of fatalities in the future."
President Obama has nominated Dr. Suzette M. Kimball to serve as the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Kimball has led the agency in an acting capacity since February 2013. If confirmed by the U. S. Senate, Kimball would lead the agency of more than 8,000 scientists, technicians and support staff in over 400 locations across the U.S. The USGS Director also serves as Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, overseeing activities of the Department’s Strategic Science Group and chairing the team of nine bureau science advisors. Before assuming the USGS Acting Director position last year, Kimball served as the Deputy Director from 2010 to 2013; as the Associate Director for Geology from 2008 to 2010; as the Director of the Eastern Region from 2004 to 2008; and as the Eastern Regional Executive for Biology from 1998 to 2004. Kimball received a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences/Coastal & Oceanographic Processes from the University of Virginia; an M.S. in Geology/Geophysics from Ball State University; and a B.A. from the College of William and Mary.
This week SME participated in meetings with staff of the House Financial Services Committee to discuss ongoing problems with the SEC’s mineral reserves disclosure reporting requirements for US mining companies, better known as Industry Guide 7. The Financial Services Committee has jurisdiction over the SEC, and their committee staff have agreed to help SME and the National Mining Association circulate letters of support for SME’s petition for rulemaking that SME filed in 2012 to force the SEC to realign their mineral reserves reporting standards of IG7 with the rest of the mining world. Further, SME has submitted questions to the committee to ask during an April 29 SEC oversight hearing that SEC Chair Mary Jo White will participate, asking when her agency will address the competitive disadvantage to US mining companies.
On April 23, MSHA issued a final rule to lower miners' exposure to respirable coal mine dust in all underground and surface coal mines. The final rule, that will be phased in over a two year period, reduces the overall dust standard from 2.0 to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air and cuts in half the standard from 1.0 to 0.5 for certain mine entries and miners with pneumoconiosis; requires immediate action when dust levels are high; requires more frequent sampling of areas known to have relatively high dust levels; changes the method of averaging dust samples; requires sampling for the full shift a miner works; for MSHA-collected samples, MSHA will issue a citation for any single, full-shift sample at or exceeding the citation level; requires dust samples to be taken when mines are operating at 80 percent of production; and improves medical surveillance of miners.
MSHA will hold field seminars in coal mining regions to provide a comprehensive review of the new requirements to underground and surface coal operators. Training will be provided to MSHA coal mine safety and health enforcement personnel within five weeks of the promulgation of the final rule. All training materials will be available on MSHA's website at www.msha.gov.
MSHA has released preliminary data for 2013 on inspections; violations; number of mines and miners; and fatality and injury rates for coal, metal and nonmetal, and all mining. The data shows that while the 2013 overall injury rate improved from the prior year to an historic low, fatality rates increased, driven by a high number of mining deaths in the 4th quarter of 2013 when 15 miners died. In total, there were 42 mining deaths in 2013. Of those 42, 20 occurred at coal mines (unchanged from the previous year) and 22 at metal and nonmetal mines, an increase of six from the previous year. Nine of the 22 metal and nonmetal deaths occurred in the 4th quarter. The number of deaths of mine contractors dropped to a record low of four fatalities, compared to five the previous year. The number of mines decreased from 14,093 to 13,708. The number of working miners also declined, from 387,878 to 374,069. For the third consecutive year, mining industry compliance continued to improve as MSHA inspectors issued 118,759 citations and orders in 2013, a 15 percent decline from the prior year. MSHA will release a final version of the calendar year data in July. As of April 16, there were 9 fatalities, three in coal and six in metal.
On April 9, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn) all but closed the door this Congress to mine safety legislation in response to the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion. Panel ranking member George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced a pending mine safety bill, H.R. 1373, as an amendment to labor-related legislation during a markup. Despite protests by Miller, Republican panel leaders said the amendment, which would boost mine safety penalties and whistleblower protections, was not germane. Miller, who is retiring this year, has been a vocal proponent of increased whistleblower protections, making advanced notice that intentionally obstructs MSHA inspections and willful violations of mine safety standards that lead to miners' deaths a felony, and other amendments to the Mine Act. Time has now run out for substantive mine safety reform prior to mid-term elections in November. With Miller retiring, it is unlikely that a new Congressional champion of Mine Act reform will emerge anytime soon. "This amendment (Miller’s) reflects the same flawed belief that simply passing more legislation will protect miners," Kline said. "We believe a better approach is to build on the progress we've made through responsible and aggressive oversight, and that's precisely what this committee will do." Kline's statement conforms to previous comments by GOP leaders and the mining industry that calls for tougher enforcement by MSHA rather than a new law.
On April 14, in a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down a SEC rule that required companies to disclose whether “conflict minerals” in their products were mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The federal appellate court ruled that the SEC's conflict minerals rule violated the First Amendment by requiring companies to state on their websites whether components of their goods "may have originated" in the DRC. Specifically, this aspect of the SEC’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation sought to crack down on the use of gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten that armed militias sell to fund their operations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers also challenged the rule’s lack of a de minimus exception for companies that used tiny amounts of those minerals. Further, they sought to strike down due diligence requirements for what a company must do to determine whether its products contain minerals that came from the DRC, as well as requirements forcing contractors to conduct similar diligence efforts. The court unanimously upheld all those aspects of the rule, which the SEC estimates will cost $3 billion to $4 billion initially and then $200 million to $600 million annually.
On April 8, the Senate confirmed Neil Kornze as the 18th director of the BLM. The 71-28 vote gives BLM its first confirmed director since 2012. Kornze, who has led BLM in an acting capacity for over a year, is a Nevada native. He came to BLM in January 2011 after spending several years as a public lands staffer for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a role that included helping pass a sweeping omnibus public lands package in spring 2009. As director, he will face tough policy decisions in finalizing a hydraulic fracturing rule, curbing methane emissions from well sites, amending millions of acres of land-use plans to protect the sage grouse and leading reforms to BLM's oil and gas program, including the upcoming launch of a nationwide online permitting system designed to trim industry wait times.
On April 8, in response to the potential Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the sage grouse, which would affect land development including mining, in 11 Western states, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced H.R. 4419, the Sage-Grouse and Endangered Species Conservation and Protection Act. The bill would require the federal government to fund a portion of conservation work before listing a species. As a funding mechanism, the bill would allow sales of 160 acres or less of public land to pay for conservation measures. The funds would be distributed to federal/state councils in states with 33 percent federal land or more. In the event of a listing, the bill would require a transparent review of the listed species, including cost benefit analysis and updated figures regarding habitat acres and species population. The legislation also extends protections to private land owners whose properties are designated as critical habitat. Any such designation that imposes restrictions on uses of land is deemed a regulatory taking of property for which fair-value compensation is required to be paid under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
According to a report issued on April 2 by the American Chemistry Council's Rare Earth Technology Alliance, the REE industry, including mining and processing, generates $1.9 billion in economic activity a year in North America. The report said the REE industry directly contributes roughly $795 million in shipments and employs a little more than 1,000 workers. Even though the global REE market is controlled primarily by companies and countries outside of North America, the report's authors say momentum is on North America's side. "The overall trend is up. And we would expect it to jump even more," said Kevin Swift, ACC's chief economist. The report argues that each job within the rare earths industry helps sustain five more jobs elsewhere. The group gets to the $1.9 billion figure by adding up the direct, indirect and induced economic effects. Counting the products and industries that rely on REEs, the report finds that the industry helps support more than $300 billion in U.S. and Canadian economic output, including more than 600,000 workers.
Seven mining state Senators, including John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), is urging the Obama administration’s Interagency Working Group on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security not to increase regulation of ammonium nitrate (ANFO), the chemical compound blamed for a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas last year. They worry that additional scrutiny will be an undue burden on mining operations, which rely on ammonium nitrate as a primary explosive. Additional regulation of ANFO is redundant to the existing rules under OSHA, MSHA, ATF and the Dept. of Homeland Security, according to the Senators. "There is no viable substitute for ANFO in the explosives industry, and without explosives mining, quarrying and other essential industries could not function," they wrote in the March 31 letter.
On March 26, the House passed H.R. 1459, a bill to curtail the president’s authority to designate national monuments that protect public lands from mineral development and other impacts. The bill would require the president to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review before designating monuments more than 5,000 acres in size, while limiting presidents to one designation per state for each four-year term. The president could issue emergency proclamations for smaller monuments, but those would still require either congressional approval or a NEPA review within three years.
On March 24, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) announced new major legislation that supports the development and implementation of technologies that reduce the carbon footprint of coal-fired power plants. The Advanced Clean Coal Technology Investment in Our Nation (ACCTION) Bill incentivizes utilities companies to invest in technologies that reduce the carbon footprint of coal-fired power. This is done through federal funding programs, federal support for private investment, and reports to Congress that provide recommendations on how best to support future carbon capture and sequestration projects in the U.S.
On March 25, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2824, “Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America.” This bill is aimed at stopping the Obama administration from re-writing coal mining regulations as they apply to the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone rule. Under the bill, coal operations would be allowed to dispose of mine waste near streams if regulators determine that avoiding disturbance of the streams is not reasonably possible. Under the existing rule the Office of Surface Mining is currently implementing, coal companies are prohibited from disposing of mine waste within 100 feet of streams.
On March 24, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a broad challenge to U.S. EPA's authority to retroactively veto Clean Water Act permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. Mingo Logan Coal Co., a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc., challenged EPA's decision to veto parts of a Section 404 dredge-and-fill permit for their mountaintop-removal coal mine in Logan County, W.Va., four years after it was issued. By not taking up that challenge, the justices let stand a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling last April that upheld EPA's veto authority.
The federal Office of Surface Mining is making $298 million available in fiscal 2014 grant funding to states under the abandoned mine land (AML) grants. This years’ grants are almost $24 million lower than the fiscal 2013 total because of sequester spending cuts, lower coal production and other factors. The grants flow from coal industry fees and the Treasury and are determined through a formula last set in the 2006 amendments to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Top recipients include Pennsylvania with more than $52 million, West Virginia with $51.8 million and Kentucky with $36.6 million for fiscal 2014. Wyoming gets $26.9 million even though the state is certified to have finished cleaning up its priority abandoned coal mine sites.
The Office of Surface Mining is proceeding with plans to implement the 1983 Reagan-era stream buffer regulation to protect waterways from coal mining in the wake of a court ruling last month that struck down the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the 2008 rule violated the Endangered Species Act because the Bush administration failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service during its development. The OSM has only been enforcing the SBZ Rule in a limited number of jurisdictions, including Tennessee and Indian Country, that lack their own mining oversight programs. OSM is moving to comply with the court ruling and implement the 1983 guidelines, including preparing a notice to be published in the Federal Register. States with regulatory programs under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act have already been working under the same 31-year-old rule. The Obama administration is in the process of developing the forthcoming Stream Protection Rule and wants that to be the national standard in the coming years. Environmentalists and OSM claim the 1983 rule is more protective of waterways while the National Mining Association, who may appeal the court’s ruling, sees the 2008 rule as being more protective.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-WV) announced the establishment of a special panel which will focus on the use of and opportunities for public-private partnerships (P3s) across all modes of transportation, economic development, public buildings, water, and maritime infrastructure and equipment. The full committee’s Vice Chairman, John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), will chair the newly formed “Panel on Public-Private Partnerships,” and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) will serve as the ranking member. The panel will examine the current state of P3s in the U.S. to identify: (1) the role P3s play in development and delivery of transportation and infrastructure projects in the U.S., and on the U.S. economy; (2) if/how P3s enhance delivery and management of transportation and infrastructure projects beyond the capabilities of government agencies or the private sector acting independently; and (3) how to balance the needs of the public and private sectors when considering, developing, and implementing P3 projects.
On March 6, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3826, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, by a vote of 229 to 183. Authored by Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), this bill would prevent EPA from finalizing its proposal to require carbon capture and storage technology for all new coal-fired power plants, and would make rules for existing power plants contingent on congressional approval. Ten Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the bill, and Republican Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Chris Gibson (NY) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ) voted against it. The legislation would allow coal to remain a viable part of the U.S. energy mix by ensuring EPA adopts standards for new coal plants that are technologically achievable. As currently written, EPA’s standards for new coal-fired generation would require the use of control technologies that are not commercially available, constituting a de facto ban on new coal-fired plants. The legislation also provides that Congress would set the effective date for EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants.
On February 26, President Obama proposed a $302 billion, four-year transportation reauthorization bill that aims to avoid insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run out of money as early as August if Congress fails to implement a solution. The bill would reauthorize the current transportation funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which will expire in September. The transportation bill would provide funding to states and local governments for transportation projects — two levels that need more support than MAP-21 has provided. It will also provide $63 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to help fill the funding gap and will include policies and reforms to prioritize “Fix-it-First” investments. Other investments included in the proposal are: $206 billion for highway funding and road safety; $72 billion for transit and expansion projects; $19 billion in high performance rail; and $9 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants and competitive funding. It is critical that Congress and the president find a Highway Trust Fund solution before the Federal Highway Administration is unable to reimburse states this summer for road and transit projects that have already been approved.
This report presents the results of the Fraser Institute’s 2013 annual survey of 4100 individuals in global mining and exploration companies. The survey is an attempt to assess how mineral endowments and public policy factors such as taxation and regulatory uncertainty affect exploration investment. Survey results ranked Sweden as the top political jurisdiction for mining and exploration, while the state of Alaska offers the best regional geology for exploration.
Musical chairs continues in the House of Representatives as House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) announced he will retire at the end of the year after serving 20 years in Congress, including four atop one of the House's most influential panels on mining and energy policy. If Republicans keep their House majority, as expected, it will clear the way for new GOP leadership on the panel that oversees mining development on public lands. Future chairmen could include Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas or Rob Bishop of Utah. As chairman, Hastings’ committee helped lead to the House passage of H.R. 761, the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013 – twice.