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Public Statements

National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Chair, despite the name of this bill, the underlying legislation has, in my judgment, little to do with securing a sufficient supply of rare Earth minerals for our country. Rather, it is another Republican giveaway to large, profitable companies that do not need congressional action to pad their bottom lines.

In fact, today's bill is so broadly drafted that it is not just rare Earth mines that will no longer have to adhere to our Federal environmental laws, but virtually any mine on public land anywhere, including silver, uranium and coal mines.

Mining operations have severe and permanent consequences for the land and residents living nearby. In fact, 75 percent of existing mines end up polluting the groundwater despite the designed mitigation plans. The need for a complete and thorough review of the environmental impact before approval is therefore absolutely necessary.

What's more, Madam Chair, is that this bill's underlying intent of loosening up the permitting process is not even necessary. Mining is already the priority use for most public lands, which makes it virtually impossible to regulate and control. Mining on public lands is also already incredibly cheap. These companies pay little rent to the American taxpayer for the use of public land.

Moreover, under the Obama administration, 82 percent of plans are approved within 3 years, with an average of 4 years for the largest mines located on public lands. Any delays in permit approval usually stem from an incomplete application or problems that arise during review which were not anticipated and require supplemental information.

By giving the lead agency the option to extend the time period for review in the event of new information, my amendment makes sure agencies can get the job done right while still adhering to a predictable schedule. Prioritizing speed over accuracy--I learned early, as did all of us, that haste makes waste--as this bill does, guarantees that mining companies are able to drill additional mines at a faster rate with less consideration for the broader impact of those mines.

My amendment is necessary to give agencies the time they need to make sure that this bill will not compromise environmental protections that keep our drinking water safe, soil nourishing and nontoxic, and our air clean enough to breathe.

Madam Chair, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Chair, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Madam Chair, I understand very clearly what my good friend from Washington is saying. My quarrel is in asking that the lead agency be given the option to extend the time, as I believe historically mining companies--who, under the underlying bill would have the right to sign off on the extension--are not likely to do that. There is no history showing that they do. They want to hurry up and get on with their mining business. When there are unpredictable kinds of circumstances, then it would seem to me that the lead agency would be the place that would determine the time for review.

With that, Madam Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Chairman, this bill is an irresponsible giveaway to the mining industry that has taken enormous profits at American taxpayer expense.

One section in particular is extremely disturbing. Section 205 of the bill eliminates awarding of attorneys' fees to litigants bringing successful legal challenges against certain agencies' actions, like the issuance of a mining permit.

Eliminating the possibility of fee shifting makes litigation prohibitively expensive for groups and individuals that don't have the deep pockets of large corporate entities. Indeed, the whole reason fee shifting exists in the first place is so that a party does not have to be wealthy in order to file a lawsuit.

Justice should be accessible to all, regardless of their individual financial circumstances. Eliminating the awarding of attorneys' fees means that the traditional parties for these kinds of lawsuits, such as nearby landowners, small business owners, and environmental groups, will no longer be reimbursed for the cause of successfully litigating a claim.

The only reason to eliminate this fee shifting is to discourage parties from filing these kinds of suits.

Who is the biggest beneficiary of reducing the number of permit challenges? The permit-holding mine companies, of course. Since litigation can be extremely expensive, these cash-strapped plaintiffs usually only bring those lawsuits with the most likelihood of success because they literally cannot afford to lose.

Eliminating the awarding of attorneys' fees will increase the predictability of the permitting process only by stifling access to the courts.

Mr. Chairman, my amendment creates an exception for the awarding of attorneys' fees to successful challenges submitted by either individual citizens or nonprofit entities so that justice in this country is not reserved for only those who can afford the hefty entrance fee.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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