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National Strategic And Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Unknown

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Mr. HOLT. I thank my friend, the ranking member.

Madam Chair, today we're considering the so-called National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012. Now, despite the bill's title, it has almost nothing to do with national strategic and critical minerals production.

In fact, under the guise of promoting the development of minerals critical to the United States' national security, this legislation would reshape mining decisions on public lands for almost all minerals. You heard Mr. Markey talk about gravel and sand and other things that can fall under the definition here of critical minerals.

There's a list of problems with this bill that is long, and several of the amendments we'll consider today will attempt to address the egregious provisions that would truncate important environmental review.

Make no mistake, this is a giveaway. It is free mining, no royalties, no protection of public interest, exemption from royalty payments, near exemption from environmental regulations, near exemption from legal enforcement of the protections. And it's unnecessary.

Madam Chairman, the Natural Resources Committee has already reported out legislation, on a bipartisan basis, to lay the groundwork for developing critical and strategic mineral production. Nearly a year ago, July of 2011--yes, 12 months ago--the committee reported out H.R. 2011, on a bipartisan basis, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011, by unanimous consent. That bill would improve our understanding of critical strategic mineral deposits and aid in their development.

That legislation is not only bipartisan, it's supported by the National Mining Association, for heaven's sake. The president and CEO of the National Mining Association, Hal Quinn, issued a statement when the bill was passed out of committee, saying, ``The House Natural Resources Committee took important bipartisan action today to ensure U.S. manufacturers, technology innovators, and our military have a more stable supply of minerals vital to the products they produce and use.''

He went on to say that legislation ``will provide a valuable assessment of
our current and future mineral demands and our ability to meet more of our needs through domestic minerals production.''

Yes, a year ago we reported out a bill, on a bipartisan basis, that would do what this legislation purports to do. Instead, we're taking up this legislation, which is a giveaway.

The legislation we could be dealing with actually deals with strategic and critical minerals. If the majority were to bring it to the floor, I'm sure it would pass in an overwhelming, bipartisan way and would likely be passed by the other body and signed into law.

We should be able to work in this fashion when it comes to improving our supply of rare earths and other strategic minerals and ensuring that we're not dependent on China and other nations for their supply, but the majority is not interested, evidently, in working in a bipartisan fashion. Instead, they're moving this bill, H.R. 4402, which has almost nothing to do with strategic minerals and is really about giveaways to the mining industry. This bill is a Trojan horse and has no chance of becoming law.

Why are we playing these games? Why are, I should say, they playing these games with our need to develop strategic minerals? We should be working in the kind of fashion that led to last year's bill.

The majority should shelve this giveaway to the mining industry and bring up the other Critical Minerals Policy Act to the floor immediately.

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Mr. HOLT. I thank the gentleman.

I just wanted to address the point raised by the committee chair. Where in the bill, he asks, are there exemptions from environmental review?

Well, section 102 is where they are, right at the front of this bill, page 4, if he wanted to know the page number. Under section 102, the lead agency can determine whether the NEPA law, the National Environmental Policy Act, even applies to a particular project. The whole idea of the National Environmental Policy Act is that there would be an independent review that involves public input, input from all affected interests, and input from somebody who speaks for the land and somebody who speaks for the trees.

One of my colleagues a few moments ago said mining affects only a tiny, tiny fraction of the land. Well, that is, if you ignore everybody who's downstream and downwind.

Section 102 allows deferring and relying on data from reviews that have been performed not under NEPA standards. The majority says, well, State reviews should suffice.

Well, does anybody remember a State called Montana that was controlled by copper interests? Do you think that State's reviews of a copper mining environmental impact would suffice?

Well, that's the kind of thing that would be permitted under this legislation. It would be whether to prepare a document, the determination of the scope of any review, the submission and review of any comments from the public. They could say no public comments are permitted. I consider that a real abrogation of our responsibility and, yes, a real removal of environmental protection.

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Mr. HOLT. I thank the gentleman for giving me a chance to clarify further the point raised by the chairman that this does not eviscerate environmental protections.

I talked about section 102, and the chairman came back and said, well, section 101 just refers to the Presidential order that allows certain infrastructure projects to move ahead with expedited environmental review. First of all, it is only expedited environmental review--it is not with removal of environmental review--and that was talking about specific critical construction projects.

What this would do would allow the exemption, essentially, from environmental review for any of the materials that go into the construction project, including gravel and sand. All of that would be exempt because the mining companies could negotiate a timetable for each step of the review process. The mining companies could enter into a negotiation for determining whether there would be public comment or whether partial previous reviews would suffice.

Furthermore, section 103 directs the agency overseeing this project to prioritize, to give the highest priority, to maximizing the production of the mineral resource. In other words, that relegates any review, any challenge to the regulatory process, to secondary, tertiary or nonexistent status. It says maximizing production has the highest priority. This is a giveaway to mining companies. This is not about providing strategic and critical minerals.

The other side has talked at length about the importance of these minerals to our modern technology today for batteries and cars and magnets and all sorts of other things. They're right, we should be ensuring a good supply of these things; but this bill does not do it.

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Mr. HOLT. Madam Chair, I have used the phrase ``giveaway,'' as have others today several times. The ranking member spoke about the wheel of giveaways. One day, it's oil. Another day, it's timber. Today, it's mining. There is also a lot of concern about the special interests that are represented here by this.

I offered an amendment to this bill to ensure that the companies involved, the mining companies, could not continue to extract valuable minerals for free, minerals that belong to the American people, without accountability for their expenditures to obtain political influence. My amendment, which unfortunately was not allowed by the Rules Committee, would have simply required that mineral exploration and mining companies disclose their contributions for political influence over the previous 5 years in order to obtain new leases--perfectly legal and, I would say, perfectly reasonable.

The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United ruled that corporations may spend freely in elections, which I believe constituted a blow to popular democracy. It overturned a century-old doctrine going back to Teddy Roosevelt restricting corporate money in campaigns. The flawed decision opened floodgates on corporate spending to influence, maybe even to dominate, our elections. Because of that decision, American democracy has come to be defined by super PACs and similar organizations.

The amendment I offered would have helped to restore some sanity and transparency to this process by requiring that mining companies disclose their campaign contributions over the previous 5 years in order to receive new leases for public lands.

As Speaker Boehner said on ``Meet the Press'' a few years back:

I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

I agree. We should be doing that in this case as well. Promoting the development of minerals that are critical to core national priorities and that are genuinely susceptible to supply disruption, like rare Earth elements, should be an area where Democrats and Republicans can work together, not one where special interests advance one partisan interest over another. Unfortunately, the majority's hurry to give yet another handout to the mining industry means that we are not having that debate here today.

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Mr. HOLT. Almost 15 years ago, the Forest Service began the process of reviewing the management of the last remaining, undeveloped forests, the so-called roadless areas.

In 2001, the Bush administration, yes, the George W. Bush administration, issued regulations to protect these areas in an effort recognized as one of the most far-reaching conservation initiatives taken by the Federal Government in decades.

Now, a decade later, after litigation, 60 million acres of our forests, and the clean water derived from those forests, are now protected from harmful development. Three hundred fifty four municipal water supplies flow through roadless areas on their way to homes and businesses. These areas include sacred sites for Native Americans. They include biological strongholds for fish and wildlife. The continued protection of these areas is something that people all over America care about.

I know the gentleman thinks that this is somehow infringing on Alaska. The point that must be made is this is in the national interest, and continued protection of these areas is common sense. It is what I know my constituents tell me they want.

For the record, there are already 380,000 miles of roads in the rest of our national forests, with only 20 percent maintained to adequate standards of safety.

The gentleman from Alaska offers an amendment that purports to waive the roadless rule for the purposes of mineral development. However, both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management say that the current policy does not prevent mineral developers from accessing development sites in our forests. All the current policy requires is careful consideration before access for mining operations is permitted.

I recognize that southeast Alaska, we all recognize that southeast Alaska is a unique place that requires access by boat and helicopter. However, mine operators have been able to get the approval necessary for that access. This is a waiver that is overly broad, which Federal agencies tell us is unnecessary for the purposes purported here. And it just invites conflict where, for a decade now, there has been resolution.

Congress has debated the roadless policy for a decade--actually for many decades, but for a decade--and opponents of the policy have had their day in court. Congress, the public, and the courts agree that they have supported the protections, including protections for those holding valid existing mineral rights. This amendment is not necessary, and I urge its defeat.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HOLT. The gentleman is right, this affects more than Alaska. This affects the country at large. The roadless rule has been debated. It has been litigated. It should be considered settled.

The Young amendment, as the gentleman has explained, derives from his interest in having road access for mineral development in Alaska. Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management--I repeat--say that the current policy does not prevent the mineral developers from accessing development sites. We don't need to overturn a well-debated, well-litigated, settled matter of the roadless rule.

Just to be clear, the amendment that the gentleman from Alaska offers would exempt all areas of identified mineral resources in land use designations, et cetera, from the procedures detailed and the rules promulgated under title 36, Code of Federal Regulations.

This is sweeping and it is not necessary.

Again, I urge the defeat of this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

The Acting CHAIR (Mr. Simpson). The gentleman from Alaska has 1 minute remaining. The gentleman from New Jersey has 30 seconds remaining.

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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chair, of course we want this country to have the minerals that it's dependent on; but need I repeat again that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management say that current policy does not prevent mineral developers from accessing the development sites. This amendment is not necessary, and it would overturn very important resolutions that protect the public lands in the public interest.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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