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.
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will take over the chairmanship of the influential Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as former chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) moves to chair the Finance Committee. Landrieu has long been close with fossil fuel producers, as Louisiana plays host to numerous oil and gas operations and ranks 17th in coal production that generates almost a third of the state's electricity. The Louisiana Senator has been a vocal skeptic of the Obama administration proposals to reduce power plant emissions and has expressed opposition to U.S. EPA's use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Later this year, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will likely take up the controversial issue of coal exports from both the Pacific Northwest and from the Gulf Coast.
On January 28, the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, (H.R. 3826) authored by Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), passed the full Energy and Commerce Committee by a bi-partisan vote of 29-19. The legislation offers an alternative to the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants and the agency’s planned regulations for existing power plants. The bill directs EPA to adopt workable standards for new coal-fired plants that require technologies that have been adequately demonstrated and are commercially feasible. It would also instruct Congress to set the effective date for EPA’s expected regulations for existing plants. The legislation allows coal to remain part of America’s energy mix, protects jobs, and ensures a diverse and affordable electricity portfolio. A similar version of this bill was introduced in the Senate on Jan 16 by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
A new report by the Associated Equipment Distributors claims that the construction equipment industry stands to lose $2.4 billion in revenue and roughly 4,000 jobs next year if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money in 2015. California faces the largest potential revenue loss, at $226 million, followed by Texas, Florida and New York, the study found. The figures were based on fiscal 2015 allocations announced last October by the Federal Highway Administration. The Highway Trust Fund uses revenue from the federal gas tax to fund highway projects but is slated to become insolvent by 2015 due in large part to an increase in fuel efficiency and other auto industry improvements. Democrats and Republicans are split on how to fix the problem. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is backing a bill that would raise the existing 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax to 33 cents per gallon. Republicans favor lowering the gas tax to as little as 3 cents per gallon in some states. MAP-21, a 2012 surface transportation law, set $81.4 billion aside for the trust fund, but the law is set to expire in September. Earlier this month, the House and Senate began negotiations to reauthorize the law.
SME, and the American Geosciences Institute, have founded a new broad-based group of minerals and materials interests, called the Minerals Science and Information Coalition (MSIC), to advocate for reinvigorated minerals science and information functions in the federal government. The MSIC seeks to have Congress and the administration increase funding and support for federal minerals research, information gathering, analysis, and forecasting to sustain economic prosperity and ensure national security. Federal programs in minerals science, research, information, data collection and analysis have been severely weakened. Funding for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources Program, the only primary source for minerals science and information, has been cut by 30% in constant dollar terms over the last decade. The U.S. government currently has no capacity to forecast future trends in the supply of, and demand for, minerals and thus is unable to anticipate and mitigate disruptions in supply chains. Coalition members include trade associations, professional societies, and groups representing the extractive industries; geoscience, physical, chemical, and material science professionals; processors, manufacturers, and other mineral and material supply-chain users; state government; and other consumers of federal minerals science and information.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has called on EPA to issue a first-of-its-kind preemptive veto of the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska. On Jan 23, Cantwell headlined a rally in Seattle against the mine, along with dozens of fishermen and local celebrity chefs. In 2011, Cantwell became the first senator to call on EPA to consider invoking Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to veto key Army Corps of Engineers dredge-and-fill permits for the project. Even though the mine has yet to enter the formal permitting process, Cantwell cites EPA's newly completed watershed assessment as evidence of the necessity to intervene now. In a letter to President Obama, Cantwell urged the administration to file a notice in the Federal Register beginning the process to "prohibit or restrict the development of the Pebble Mine or similar large-scale mining activity in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.” Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of a retroactive veto for a West Virginia mining project. The agency has never used such a veto pre-emptively, however.
SME members Larry Meinert, U.S. Geological Survey mineral resources program coordinator; and Roderick Eggert, Colorado School of Mines professor, testified on behalf of their respective organizations at a Jan. 28 hearing in Washington, D.C. on critical minerals. The hearing, by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is the first Senate hearing on critical minerals policy since the beginning of the 113th Congress. At issue will be legislation, S. 1600, sponsored by ranking committee member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), plus a bipartisan group of Senators. The Murkowski bill would create a system for establishing a list of critical minerals. And it calls for studies of U.S. mineral resources and issues surrounding domestic mining. The hearing will likely touch on the causes of U.S. dependence on imports for a variety of minerals and whether the country needs to promote more mining. Advocates on the issue have also been concerned about the U.S. losing the knowledge and manufacturing base associated with these key minerals. The Murkowski bill would cost $60 million however it would be offset that cost by taking money from an unused biofuels grant program originally approved in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was joined by all but five Republican colleagues in introducing legislation on Jan. 16 to block EPA's proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The legislation is an attempt to stop the rule using the Congressional Review Act despite the fact that disapproval resolutions under that act, such as this legislation, are typically applied only to rules that have been finalized and submitted to the Government Accountability Office -- neither of which has happened here. McConnell has been vocal in accusing the administration of proposing the rule in an effort to eliminate the use of coal-fired electricity and wreak economic ruin on the coal miners in his district. The rule would require the use of carbon capture and sequestration technology that is expensive and arguably untested on a commercial scale.
Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA)and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who have been among the most vocal supporters of new mine safety legislation in response to the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion in West Virginia, announced their retirements from Congress at the end of 2014. Democrats were unable to pass mine safety legislation immediately after Upper Big Branch when they controlled both houses of Congress. Many lawmakers wanted to wait for investigators to finish probing the incident. Since then, Rockefeller has blamed Republicans and strong coal industry lobbying for effectively stalling any move toward new mine safety laws. A bill pending in the House has 30 co-sponsors, while the Senate version has only five supporters. Neither bill is expected to pass. After the Upper Big Branch disaster, Miller, who serves as ranking member of the Education and Workforce Committee, was strongly critical of some mining companies' using the violations appeals process to ward off increased scrutiny by MSHA and has pressed for tougher industry oversight by MSHA. Lawmakers have worked to keep funding relatively stable for MSHA amid budget cuts. The proposed fiscal 2014 omnibus spending bill sets aside $376 million for the agency, below President Obama's request but comparable to current levels.
On Jan. 15, EPA issued its final watershed assessment of the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska. The report claims the mine would create significant risks for the local salmon fishery and tribal communities that depend on it. The final watershed assessment offers a scathing critique of mining in the watershed, saying a mine, such as Pebble, would destroy between 24 and 94 salmon streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes. Under normal operations, a large-scale mine would have direct and indirect impacts on fish in 13 to 51 miles of streams, the report says. EPA also predicts problems stemming from road and pipeline pollution. EPA said it prepared the assessment in response to concerns about the potential Pebble mine from several Alaska tribes. The tribes want the agency to use its Clean Water Act veto power to block key mining permits and protect the local sockeye salmon fishery. EPA said today that it will now begin looking at how to respond to the tribes, although no time frame has been established. There is obvious concern by the mining industry that EPA may issue a preemptive veto of the project that would set significant precedent for future mine development projects.
A rider in the omnibus spending bill released Jan. 13 would roll back but not block the Obama administration's limits on funding overseas coal projects. At issue are guidelines approved in December by the U.S. Export-Import Bank -- a government entity that's supposed to promote U.S. exports -- that would block funding for coal-fired power plants unless they are equipped with carbon capture technologies or "no other feasible alternative exists" in poorer countries. The omnibus includes a provision that would prevent the Ex-Im Bank from acting "when enforcement of such rule, regulation, policy, or guidelines would prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting, any coal-fired or other power-generation" for certain poor countries. The spending measure would also prohibit the lenders from blocking, or pursuing policies that have the effect of blocking, plants that "increase exports of goods and services from the U.S. or prevent the loss of jobs from the U.S." A summary of the legislation says, "This provision is expected to increase affordable electricity, especially to those without current access to electricity, as well as to support increased exports from the United States and prevent the loss of United States jobs."
On January 14, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission overturned a decision by Administrative Law Judge Jerold Feldman involving Wolf Run Mining Co.’s Sago Mine in Upshur County, W. Va., where 12 miners died in an explosion Jan. 2, 2006. The commission found that the mine operator’s failure to notify MSHA and mine rescue teams immediately after the explosion involved unwarrantable failure and high negligence. On appeal, a two-member commission majority held, in agreement with MSHA, that the ALJ erred because he: (1) miscalculated the time at which the mine operator’s duty to report commenced; (2) treated the intentional nature of the operator’s failure to report as a mitigating factor; (3) treated the fact that the explosion occurred on a federal holiday as a mitigating factor; and (4) failed to consider the fact that, when the operator finally attempted to report the explosion, it relied solely on an off-site management official who had limited knowledge of the explosion and limited information and resources available to him at home. In addition to reinstating MSHA’s unwarrantable failure and high negligence designations, the commission assessed the company with MSHA’s proposed penalties of $1,500 and $13,000 for two separate citations.
President Obama has nominated Dr. Suzette M. Kimball to serve as the Director of the USGS. Kimball has led the agency in an acting capacity since February 2013. If confirmed by the U. S. Senate, Kimball would lead the science agency of more than 8,000 scientists, technicians and support staff in more than 400 locations across the U.S., with a budget of $1.1 billion. 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. She was previously Acting Director from January to November 2009. She has also USGS’s international activities and represented all North American geological surveys on international mapping endeavors. Kimball received a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences/Coastal and 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.
Preliminary data released by MSHA indicates that in 2013, 42 miners died in work-related accidents, up from 36 mining fatalities in 2012. Of those fatalities, 20 were in coal mining and 22 were in metal/nonmetal mining, compared with 20 and 16, respectively, in 2012. Of the total mining deaths in 2013, fourteen occurred in underground coal and an additional six at surface coal operations. In metal/nonmetal mining, five deaths occurred underground, and 17 occurred at surface operations. The most common causes of mining accidents in 2013 for both coal and metal/nonmetal involved machinery and powered haulage equipment. West Virginia had the most coal mining deaths, with six, and Kentucky had the most metal/nonmetal mining deaths, with four. Nine states experienced coal mining deaths and 14 states had deaths at metal/nonmetal mining operations. MSHA has completed an analysis of these mining fatalities along with best practices and recommendations to include in new miner training.
The House Natural Resources committee will hold a hearing on Jan 9 regarding a report issued in late December from the Office of Surface Mining's inspector general showing OSM changed the method of calculating the economic impacts of an early version of the forthcoming stream protection rule after contractors warned of thousands of job losses. The oversight hearing is part of its two-year-long investigation into the rewrite of the Bush-era stream buffer zone rule. Pro-coal lawmakers have categorized the rulemaking as part of Obama administration's war on coal. While the IG report found that OSM directed contractors to change the variables in their economic assessment to ones "they knew" would lower the potential job-loss numbers, it did not accuse the agency of improperly downplaying the economic impacts of the rulemaking. It also found that, although OSM only began to seriously consider terminating the contractor after job loss numbers were leaked in 2011, "interviews and internal communications indicate that OSM's dissatisfaction with contractors' work product and overall performance occurred well before then."
On December 26, president Obama signed into law a fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill with rare earth element stockpiling provisions. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed in the House and the Senate just before the holidays, authorizes the stockpiling of certain minerals important to military capabilities. The bill, a recently crafted bipartisan compromise meant to ensure passage, also allows the Pentagon to promote the domestic availability of materials like rare earth elements. The mineral provisions are seen as a win for advocates in the House who inserted similar provisions in their version of the NDAA. The original Senate bill had none. The law authorizes up to $41 million between 2013 and 2019 to acquire certain varieties of the following strategic and critical materials required to meet the defense, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the U.S.: niobium, dysprosium, yttrium, tellurium, lithium, certain high explosive molding powders.
On Dec. 12, the U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its final 2012 annual coal report that provides data on U.S. coal production, number of mines, productive capacity, recoverable reserves, employment, productivity, consumption, stocks and prices. Highlights for 2012: U.S. coal production decreased 7.2 percent from 2011, driven by lower electric power sector demand, to roughly 1.02 billion short tons; productive capacity of U.S. coal mines decreased 3.5 percent to 1.28 billion short tons; the average number of employees in U.S. coal mines decreased 1.9 percent to 89,838 employees; U.S. coal consumption decreased 11.3 percent to 889.2 million short tons; the average mine sales price of coal decreased 2.6 percent to $39.95 per short ton. EIA also announced U.S. demonstrated reserve base of coal totaled 481.4 billion short tons, with estimated recoverable reserves totaling 257.6 billion short tons, and recoverable reserves at producing mines totaled 18.7 billion short tons.