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National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Chair, the United States of America is rarely last at anything. Unfortunately, that is not the case when it comes to permitting mining projects. In 2012, the U.S. was ranked dead last, along with Papua New Guinea, out of 25 major mining companies on the pace of mining permitting. Now I can't speak for Papua New Guinea, but the reason the U.S. is so slow to issue new mining permits is simple: government bureaucracy.

Burdensome red tape, duplicative reviews, frivolous lawsuits, and onerous regulations can hold up new mining projects for more than a decade. These unnecessary delays cost Americans jobs as we become more and more dependent on foreign countries for raw ingredients to fuel manufacturing and our economy. The lack of American-produced strategic and critical minerals are prime examples of how America has regulated itself into 100 percent dependence on at least 19 unique elements.

Rare Earth elements, a special subset of strategic and critical minerals, are often used as core components for the manufacturing of everything from national security systems to consumer electronics to medical equipment to renewable energy components and everyday household items. Even though America has a plentiful supply of rare Earth elements, our negative approach to producing these crucial materials has resulted in China producing 97 percent of the world's rare Earth elements. Just like the United States' dependence on foreign oil causes pain at the pump, Americans will soon feel the impact of China's monopoly on the rare Earth element market. Those impacts will be felt when they need a CAT scan or they want to buy a new computer for their small business or purchase an iPhone or install solar panels on their roof.

H.R. 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, introduced by our colleague from Nevada (Mr. Amodei) will help to end this foreign dependence by streamlining government red tape that blocks strategic and critical mineral production. First and foremost, this is a jobs bill, and the positive impact of this bill's intent will extend beyond the mining industry. For every metals mining job created, an estimated 2.2 additional jobs are generated. And for every nonmetal mining job created, another 1.6 jobs are created. This legislation gives the opportunity for American manufacturers, for small business technology companies, and construction firms to use American resources to help make the products that are essential for our everyday lives, and in the process this will put Americans back to work.

As China continues to tighten global supplies of rare Earth elements, we should respond with an American mineral mining renaissance that will bring mining and manufacturing jobs back to the United States. The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act will help supply our national security, high-tech, health care, agriculture, construction, communications, and energy industries with homemade American materials. This bill is the latest example of House Republicans' commitment to and focus on American job creation. The House has passed over 30 job creation bills that still sit in the Senate, where their leaders, unfortunately, refuse to take any action.

This includes several bills from the Natural Resources Committee to increase production of our all-of-the-above energy resources and to protect our public access to public land.

H.R. 4402 will enable new American mineral production. We must act now to cut the government red tape that is stopping American mineral production that furthers our dependence on foreign minerals.

So I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' for this underlying legislation; and with that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Rather than bringing the bipartisan H.R. 2011, here we have a wolf in sheep's clothing, a bill that purports to serve our national security interests but, in truth, just seeks to undermine environmental regulations that protect the health and well-being of Americans throughout this great country.

It's just another episode in a long saga of misleadingly named Republican legislation, bills that claim to help the country, but really just help the special interests. What a shame.

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Madam Chairman, I yield myself 30 seconds, and I would yield to the gentleman from Georgia, if he can tell me, in this 11-page bill, where environmental laws are gutted, and I'll yield to the gentleman if he can give me a specific, what page.

I'm asking you a question, and I'll yield to you if you respond to my question.

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. You asked me a question and I'm going to answer it.

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. What page?

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. The overall scheme of this bill----

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. What page?

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. The overall scheme of this bill is to take away----

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. What page? I asked the gentleman--I'm yielding to him to respond to me at what page. The gentleman cannot respond.

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. You're not interested in debate.

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. The gentleman obviously can't respond. I reclaim my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Before I yield to the gentleman from Michigan, I yield myself 30 seconds.

The gentleman from New Jersey disparaged, I guess, sand and gravel. Madam Chairman, I would point out to you that I think, after the earthquakes in northern California, when roads collapsed, and after the earthquakes in southern California, when the roads collapsed, and when the bridge collapsed in Minnesota, I have to believe that those people felt that sand and gravel were very critical minerals at that time. That's why this bill is broad in its definition of ``critical minerals.''

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself the balance of my time.

First of all, for the record, Madam Chair, natural gas is not affected at all by this bill.

Madam Chair, I will submit for the Record excerpts from the March 2012 Report to Congress by the Department of Defense on the rare Earth materials in defense applications on national security dependence on a secure supply of high-tech critical minerals.

Madam Chairwoman, my colleagues have talked about the fact that this administration claims that mining permitting timelines have been reduced. Yet this President has been in office now for 40 months, and while they are filing WTO complaints against China on rare Earth minerals, they have yet to permit one rare Earth mine here in America, and there doesn't seem like there's any on the horizon that will get approval.

I want to also talk about one other thing, Madam Chairman. President Obama has been giving a lot of speeches claiming support for insourcing jobs to the United States from foreign nations. Currently, our Nation is dependent on foreign nations such as China and India for critical materials that American manufacturers and our economy depend upon. This bill will help reverse this dependency and insource these good-paying jobs right here to the United States. Yet the official position of the Obama administration is that they strongly oppose this jobs bill. Not only will this bill help create mining jobs in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and many other States, it will also help produce the critical materials and minerals that American manufacturers need and that millions of jobs depend on in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

So President Obama can give speech after speech claiming support for insourcing jobs, but when he should take action to make that happen, the Obama administration essentially goes the other way, as he has done with this bill.

Once again, Madam Chairman, this bill simply says that in a given time period there should be a decision made. It doesn't say it should be a positive or negative, but that a decision should be made. That's all. And when we're dealing with materials that are so important to our economy and to American jobs, we should be very much in favor of this legislation.

For that reason, Madam Chairman, I urge my colleagues to vote for H.R. 4402, and I yield back the balance of my time. Madam Chairman, I note for the RECORD excerpts from the March 2012 Report to Congress by the Department of Defense on the Rare Earth Materials in Defense Applications on national security dependence on a secure supply of high-tech critical minerals.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Chairman, this amendment attempts to pick which minerals are winners and losers in the Federal permitting sweepstakes. The underlying bill that we are talking about focuses on the permitting of mines that meet four clear categories of domestic need--and this is important--national security, energy infrastructure, domestic manufacturing, and our national economic balance of trade.

The amendment would restrict these down to just a 2008 study done by the National Research Council that took a limited and narrow look at only the aerospace, the electronic, and automotive industries when considering each mineral critical. However--and this is important, Madam Chairman--the report also states:

All minerals and mineral products could be or could become critical to some degree, depending on their importance and availability. The criticality of a specific mineral can and likely will change as production technologies evolve and new products are developed.

The definition of the strategic and critical minerals in H.R. 4402 is written broadly--we acknowledge that--to allow for the most flexibility when carrying out the provisions of this act. Less than 10 years ago, people were concerned about platinum group metals used for computer and electronics and the pending shortfall of copper availability.

Today, the focus is primarily on the availability of rare Earth elements and rare Earth metals that are in China. Tomorrow, the shortage could be lithium for batteries, silica for solar panels, and any of a host of other minerals.

Interestingly, in this talk of sand and gravel, during the U.S. Geological Survey's great shakeout in California, which simulated a massive earthquake and the problems that could be faced, they discovered that there would be a shortfall of building materials--sand and gravel, Madam Chairman--if there were a major earthquake causing significant damage in the L.A. basin and the surrounding areas. I think that would be very critical if that were to happen. It happened in the last 25 years, twice in California and once in Minnesota.

Mineral production is a key economic activity supplying strategic and critical metals and minerals essential for agriculture, communication, technology, construction, health care, manufacturing, transportation, and the arts. More specifically, strategic metals and metal alloys are an integral component of aerospace, defense, and other critical infrastructure.

Minerals, Madam Chairman, are also necessary to satisfy the basic requirements of an individual's well-being, and that includes food, clothing, shelter and a clean and healthy environment. So we should not limit ourselves today by narrowly defining what is strategic and critical. That's precisely what this amendment does, and I think that's a wrong approach. So, with that, I would urge a ``no'' vote.

Madam Chairman, I understand that the gentleman yielded back his time; is that correct?

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment. I will reserve my time, and I will not object if the gentleman wants to reclaim his time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I am simply saying that this underlying bill lays out four strategic areas in which we should have minerals to support those areas. And then we say there should be a timeframe, a defined timeframe, in which, unless there is an agreement it should be longer, activity should be done. It's pretty straightforward. This amendment, as offered, would very narrowly say what is critical. I think that's the wrong approach.

So with that, I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Madam Chairman, this amendment would reverse course on the goal of this legislation to streamline red tape. This amendment could add an entire year to the time allowed for the government to make a decision on a permit. This would then drag out the process 40 percent longer than provided for in the underlying bill.

The 30-month time period set by this legislation is accomplished by making government work more efficiently--and I, quite frankly, think that's what all Americans would like--by aligning some reviews and taking some actions concurrently.

Establishing a simple deadline for the government to do their job in a timely fashion is reasonable, and I think it is reasonable. This is especially true since it doesn't change the standards and requirements that must be met to get approval. It simply provides that an agency work efficiently while still complying with all, and let me emphasize all, environmental laws and regulations, studies, consultations, draft and file documents--all of them--that are required in order for a final record of decision to be issued on a mine plan. All the same review, but just in 30 months instead of what has been taking, in many cases, over a decade.

The underlying bill provides for flexibility on the 30-month permit timeline should a justifiable need arise for further analysis. Let me repeat: it allows for further time if that is needed. Yet this amendment would give a Federal agency an automatic excuse to prolong the process for a year, and there is no explanation that is needed.

So this amendment presents bureaucracy with a ``drag your feet for free'' card. It would hand over another roll of red tape to the government and invite them to string up more obstacles and delay job creators from getting a straight answer. And keep in mind, the 30-month time period that we're talking about simply says ``an answer shall be given.'' It could be negative; it could be positive.

This bill provides certainty for permit applicants by allowing the United States to be more competitive so that we can create more jobs here at home and produce more of the critical materials and minerals that are needed for our economy and therefore lessen our reliance on foreign sources.

So I oppose the amendment offered by my good friend from Florida, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself the balance of the time.

In response to my friend, the legislation says that both sides have to agree. I think that's a good way. The gentleman says that there's no evidence of that. Well, there's no evidence that the contrary would work either.

So, to give more time--again, what we have heard over and over and over, and especially those Members and the author of this legislation who comes from a State that is heavily in the mining industry, the uncertainty is what the problem is. What this legislation does is provide certainty but flexibility. Now, I think that makes sense. If you probably walk to Main Street anyplace in America and said this is what the option is of a 30-month time period rather than up to 10 or more years, they would say, yeah, I think certainty makes a great deal of sense.

So this amendment offered by my good friend from Florida I think extends it, doesn't need to be there, and I urge a ``no'' vote.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Chairman, this amendment is directly contrary to the intent of this bill that would create new jobs in the United States and ensure a stable domestic supply of the critical minerals that are so important to our economy.

This amendment would impose an entirely new, retroactive fee on mining operations on Federal lands. It would impose a royalty that would be one of the highest of any country in the world and, thus, would probably drive more mining jobs overseas and put American manufacturing, once again, at risk.

In the past, when we've had this issue in front of the Natural Resources Committee, we've had Democrat witnesses that have testified that an 8 percent gross royalty was unprecedented in the world and would not make economic sense, and yet this amendment is talking about a 12.5 percent gross royalty.

In 2006, the World Bank report cautioned against gross royalty approaches as compared to ability-to-pay or profit-based approaches. Madam Chair, let me quote directly from that report:

Nations should carefully weigh the immediate fiscal rewards to be granted from high levels of royalty against the long-term benefits to be gained from a sustainable mining industry that will contribute to long-term development, infrastructure, and economic diversification.

So they argue directly against this type of approach.

Let us keep our focus on what is important here today. We are dependent on foreign sources for minerals that sustain our economy.

We all know that the more you tax something, the less you get. That's what this approach is. I could take the gentleman's, my good friend from Massachusetts, math that he had out there and change it a little bit and say this is where there would be a lot of job losses if this amendment were adopted and this were to become law, because that's the area that would be affected, the Western part of the United States.

So, Madam Chair, I urge a ``no'' vote on this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Madam Chairman, I yield myself the balance of the time.

Once again, as that map is moving away, that's where the jobs would go if you add a gross tax to this activity.

Let me point out just an economic issue here. Like oil and gas, probably not quite the same, you really don't know if there's any minerals in the ground until you dig. And if you put a royalty of 12 1/2 percent, you are going to discourage that activity.

What does that mean?

When you discourage that activity, it means the potential for job creation and mineral production in this country goes away.

Now, if that's the intent of some in this country and maybe some on the other side, okay, be honest about it.

I don't think that's the right approach, so I would urge my colleagues to reject this gross tax amendment. And with that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I thank the gentleman for yielding. And I think that his amendment makes eminently good sense. It's exactly these sort of rulings that tie up our natural resources, and we should be utilizing them.

I think the gentleman has a good amendment, and I support it.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I just want to point out that the areas that this amendment affects have already been set aside for mineral development. I want to repeat that, Mr. Chairman: these have already been set aside for mineral development. That policy has not changed at all. All it ensures is that we are going to have access to it.

I just want to address the irony that the gentleman pointed out. This is for rare Earth. This particular one in his State is where we have rare Earth, and now they say they don't want it. There is some irony here, and I can't quite get my arms around it.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I thank the gentleman for his amendment.

This is, as he said in his opening remark: simply a commonsense approach that those that are in the process now should avail themselves of potential changes in law.

It is an excellent amendment, and I support it.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself the balance of my time.

I just want to make a point here. The Natural Resources Committee I have the privilege to chair has been investigating the payment of attorneys' fees and court costs to revolving door plaintiffs in environmental lawsuits.

For example, we have learned that based on information that's supplied by the Department of Justice, over $2 million in taxpayer dollars have been paid to a single organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, and they have done that for 50 lawsuits that have been filed under a single environmental statute.

This organization, which would qualify, by the way, for payments if the gentleman from Florida's amendment is adopted, they have offices in 15 States and they pay their executive director in the six figures. The question arises: Why should taxpayers be paying for their attorneys?

It seems like these lawsuit-happy environmental groups make a living from suing the Federal Government. When they sue the Federal Government, they divert resources from the Federal Government to carry out its statutory duties when it comes to environmental issues or permitting issues or whatever. I think that this amendment is ill advised by singling out some people that should not be covered.

I urge rejection of this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, this is an anti-mining, anti-jobs amendment, and it is not a pro-sportsman amendment.

I believe strongly in multiple uses of our Federal lands. It is something that as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, I take very, very seriously, and multiple means economic activity and recreational activity.

Earlier this year, this House worked to promote legislation advocating hunting and fishing on Federal lands. It was primarily aimed at promoting and protecting sportsmen's access to Federal lands. Sportsmen's access includes hunting and fishing. This bill had strong bipartisan support from most of America's sportsmen's organizations, and it received strong bipartisan support here in this body. However, Mr. Chairman, I must note that the sponsor of this amendment, my good friend from Arizona, opposed that bill that was for hunting and fishing for sportsmen.

Federal Land Management allows one use to be disrupted to ensure that we make the best and highest use of our lands. That's common sense. If the best use is rare Earth mining to secure our Nation against foreign resource nationalism and so forth, we should use the land for that. While at the same time that mine is being developed, we allow for mitigation to balance out disturbance of other activities. If a company disturbs an acre here, they can mitigate that with an acre there. The amendment completely ignores that reality.

So we should call this amendment for what it is. It's an attempt to stop mining on Federal lands, which, of course, will make us more dependent on foreign minerals. This amendment contradicts the express purpose of this legislation, which is to require the lead agency responsible for permitting strategic and critical mineral exploration and mining projects to reduce the permitting timelines through better coordination. This amendment would empower a Federal agency to unilaterally choose to red-tape another process that can take--which we've seen in the past--up to a decade long to complete a permitting process.

As a matter of fact, I might say, Mr. Chairman, the only effect of this amendment and other amendments that we've heard is to protect bureaucratic red tape, which is what the underlying bill wants to streamline. It makes sense. But every amendment we've heard coming from the other side seems to want to protect that point.

So this amendment falls under that same category. It does not deserve our support. I urge rejection, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself the balance of my time.

I would just simply say that this is an amendment, as I mentioned in my earlier remarks, that simply is antimining at its best, because there is, in current law, a procedure for giving higher access to certain activities and then there is the mitigation process. But to suggest that this is something that would protect sportsmen defies logic. As a matter of fact, Mr. Chairman, the NRA has come out against the Grijalva amendment.

So with that, I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Speaker, the underlying bill is about American jobs and not only American mining jobs. Our manufacturing sector, as part of it, uses the minerals from these mining jobs. So it is much broader than that.

I have to comment on the tone here that we've heard over and over from the other side on this issue. The bill streamlines the bureaucracy and red tape. Every amendment that was offered today and the tone of all of their debate on this was to side with the bureaucracy that imposes more red tape.

What is even more ironic is that this is about mining in America. The arguments from the other side all day were ``don't mine in America.'' What's the motion to recommit? Don't sell what we're going to mine in America. They didn't want to mine in the first place, and now they're saying we can't sell it if we mine it. It doesn't make any sense.

Mr. Speaker, this is a jobs bill for American workers. I urge rejection of the motion to recommit and ``yes'' on the underlying bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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