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National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MARKEY. I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

It is really quite fitting that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is taking up a bill today to weaken environmental regulations for the hard rock mining industry. Because just last night the Republican candidate for President held a lavish $25,000-a-plate fundraising dinner out in Montana. For those who don't know, the Daly mansion where that event was held was owned by a famous guy, Marcus Daly, was one of the three ``copper kings'' of Montana during the Gilded Age. He was infamous for his epic battles with other robber barons for control over the copper industry in Montana and around the country.

In fact, the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision to invalidate the Montana election law of 1912 overturned a law that was originally enacted to respond to the very excesses of mining barons like Marcus Daly.

So here we are out here on the House floor embracing the Gilded Age. But here in the Republican House, we are not in a Gilded Age; we are in a Giveaway Age where every week the Republicans seek to hand even more giveaways to the oil, the gas, the timber, the coal, and the mining industries. The bill we are considering today is so broadly drafted where apparently sand, gravel, and crushed stone are considered rare and strategic that the majority actually appears to be trying to usher in a new stone age. Under this bill, the next time you go to the beach, you should put some sand in your pocket because the majority apparently believes that it is a rare element. That gravel in your driveway is protected because, under this bill, it is apparently strategic to America's national security.

Rare Earth elements are indispensable to a wide range of military, electronic, and industrial applications, as well as a variety of clean energy technologies. But this bill isn't giving us just the futuristic technologies of the Jetsons. It's giving us the prehistoric technologies of the Flintstones. Volumes of reports have been written about rare Earth minerals and other critical and strategic minerals; and none of them define things like gravel, sand, and clay as critical or strategic minerals.

What we could be doing and what we should be doing on this House floor is developing a policy to break China's grip on the rare Earth minerals that are important to our high-technology sector and to national defense. But we aren't doing that with this bill. No, what we are doing here is using strategic and critical minerals as a pretext for gutting environmental protections relating to virtually all mining operations.

Now, because the majority has cast so many votes to benefit these industries that it gets hard to keep track, we have created this chart to help everyone keep track of which industry is benefiting each week in the GOP giveaway game show. Yesterday, my colleague from Utah seemed extremely interested in making sure this chart functioned properly in order to aid the body. So I brought it back today so we can give it a spin and make sure we all remember who is getting a special giveaway today. But for the Republican Congress, this isn't the game show ``Wheel of Fortune.'' This is the Wheel of Fortune 500 Companies where we can spin to see which large, multinational companies will get handouts.

In ``Jeopardy,'' you state your answer in the form of a question. In the GOP House of Giveaways, answers are stated in the form of questionable policies. And the GOP's final answer in their running game of ``Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'' is always the same: it is the largest corporations in America at the expense of American taxpayers and the environment. In fact, the majority is bringing this bill chock-full of giveaways to the mining industry on the floor without addressing the 140-year-old loophole that allows mining companies to extract gold, silver, uranium, and other hard rock minerals from public lands without paying taxpayers any royalty payments.

This rip-off is even worse when you see that every western State actually charges royalties of between 2 and 12 percent for companies to mine hard rock minerals on State lands; but on Federal lands, which might be right next door, the mining companies don't have to pay taxpayers a dime in royalties.

The robber barons are long gone, but mining companies can still operate under a law put in place during their heyday. Yet the majority's answer is not only to do nothing to end this free mining on public lands. They are trying to hand even more giveaways to this industry in this bill. This is a bad bill, and it should be defeated. I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. MARKEY. Madam Chair, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This legislation is fundamentally a solution in search of a problem. According to the analysis of data provided by the BLM for hard rock mines on public lands for which we have complete data, the average time it takes to approve a plan of operation for a mine has actually decreased under the Obama administration.

According to the BLM data, plans of operation for hard rock mines are being approved roughly 17 percent more quickly under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration. Thank you again, President Obama, for the great job you're doing in changing the way in which the Bush administration held up those permits.

Despite the majority's claims, 82 percent of plans of operation for hard rock mines are approved within 3 years under the Obama administration. According to the BLM, it takes, on average, 4 years to approve a mining plan of operations for a large mine. That's more than 1,000 acres on public lands.

My colleagues on the other side have asked repeatedly what the problem is with their legislation that would truncate and eviscerate proper review of all mines on public lands if the majority of plans are approved within 3 years. It is because a little more than 15 percent of hard rock mines take more than 4 years to approve. For these mines, where mining companies may not have submitted a complete application and may not have posted a sufficient bond to ensure the mine is cleaned up where additional environmental review is required because the mine is large or potentially damaging to our environment and public health, this bill would prevent proper review.

We're already approving hard rock mines more quickly under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration. We should not be eviscerating proper review of virtually all mining operations on public lands, as this Republican bill would do, and we should certainly not be doing it under the pretense of developing critical and strategic minerals.


Mr. MARKEY. I yield myself 1 minute.

Again, this bill is not aimed at ensuring that we can guarantee that we increase the production of the kinds of rare Earth that we need in order to compete against China. By the way, if we're really going to be using China as the guise for the reduction in the environmental laws in the United States because they have rare Earth, and we're ramping up our production of rare Earth, what we should really be talking about is why in the world are the Republicans supporting the sale of our oil and our natural gas to China.

If they're using precious minerals as an economic weapon against the United States, then why don't we use natural gas and oil, which we have, against them because that's the most precious of all minerals.


Mr. MARKEY. I yield myself an additional 1 minute.

Oil and gas really drive the economy of the world, and every time I bring an amendment out here on the floor that says, well, let's drill for oil and natural gas on the public lands of the United States, but we can't export it after we discover it here, drill for it here, to China, the Republicans, every time, vote not to put a ban on that. At the same time, they are over there with crocodile tears very concerned about China having all of these precious metals that they won't sell to us.

Well, you want to know the best way to get China to sell that stuff to us? For us not to sell the stuff we have to them, that they need to manufacture those materials. That's the game.

So you can't have it both ways. You just can't have it both ways. Either this is a great threat to our country and we're going to use the precious metals we have, the precious minerals that we have, oil and gas as our weapon against China, or we're doomed. We don't have a real strategy.

Again, this is not a coherent strategy to deal with the country of China and their economic strategy to undermine our competitiveness.


Mr. MARKEY. I thank the Chair.

China's rare Earth policies do burn America's high-tech manufacturing competitiveness, and the Republicans just want to throw gas on the fire, American natural gas.

Our greatest competitive advantage in manufacturing right now is low-priced domestic natural gas, but the Republicans want to export that competitive edge to China and to develop a global natural gas market so that the United States natural gas prices triple here domestically, or quadruple to match the prices the rest of the world pays.

China will not send their rare Earth minerals to the United States, but Republicans have continually voted to allow exports of our low-cost natural gas, our manufacturing advantage, to China.

This is a one-way ticket to manufacturing oblivion. Natural gas in our country is six to seven times less expensive than natural gas in China. It is four times less expensive than natural gas in Europe. That is our competitive advantage.

What the Republicans have consistently done since they have taken over the majority is to put in place policies to export our natural gas that is six times less expensive to China that will then be used in the manufacture of every product that they will then sell back to us, undermining every manufacturing industry in the United States as we supply the very valuable precious natural gas they need in order to harm dramatically the American economy.

Where do they show up? They show up here with crocodile tears about the restrictions that the National Environmental Policy Act places upon mining for sand, mining for gold, mining for silver. You really think that's the way we're going to get back into a better competitive stance against the Chinese as you're saying no, let's sell our natural gas that's six times less expensive than the natural gas they have in America fueling their industries?

That's just an upside-down policy. It's just dealing with the periphery of the challenge that China presents to us, and not even in an effective way, rather than going right to the core of how they are exploiting this mindless commitment to not the American Petroleum Institute, but we might as well call it the world petroleum institute because they don't represent American interests.

That's what we have to do here on the floor of the House of Representatives. That's what our amendments do today to make sure that we do for our country.


Mr. MARKEY. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

So what is the majority doing in this bill? They're saying that sand is a ``critical'' material; gravel, clay. There's no crisis in the sand industry. We don't need to wad it down, the environmental protections for drilling for sand or gravel or clay. There is no crisis. That's what this whole bill is. It's a Trojan horse. It's moving in to undermine environmental protections where they're working and where there's no need to reduce them.

If they want to talk about scandium or europium or cerium or terbium or some other critical strategic material that we should be discussing out here that we need for cell phones or we need for solar panels or we need for our defense systems, that's one thing. But that's not what this is about. This is about watering down environmental protections for sand and clay and endangering the health and well-being of the Nation for no reason whatsoever because there's no strategic relationship between those very prosaic minerals and our national security.


Mr. MARKEY. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Chair, I have an amendment in order today, and the reason I have it in order is that it's a very simple amendment. It would update an antiquated mining law to end the free ride that mining companies extracting minerals like gold and silver and uranium on public lands currently enjoy. It would then send that money to benefit Western States by dedicating the funding to cleaning up the more than 160,000 abandoned mines we have in the West.

The underlying bill would extend a host of new giveaways to the mining industry while doing nothing to ensure taxpayers are getting a proper return on these valuable minerals like gold and silver and uranium on public lands.

It is well past time to fix this law that was passed during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. My amendment would require mining companies to pay taxpayers 12.5 percent of the value of these hard rock minerals taken off of the public lands. That is the same royalty rate that coal and oil and natural gas companies pay to the Federal Government to mine and drill on public lands.

While mining companies pay no royalty on Federal lands to mine for gold and silver, they do pay a royalty on State lands that would abut those Federal lands. Twelve Western States already require mining companies to pay royalties up to 12 percent on mining on their State lands. Colorado charges up to 12 percent on minerals taken from their State lands. Utah, Wyoming, and California all charge up to 10 percent. Nevada charges up to 5 percent. But when it comes to mining on Federal lands, which could be right next door to the State lands, these multinational mining companies, they still get to play Uncle Sam for Uncle Sucker. They pay Federal taxpayers--all of the rest of us in the country--no royalties while reaping this massive windfall. So what my amendment would do is it would ensure that the States where this mining is occurring reap the benefits.

According to the GAO, there are more than 160,000 abandoned gold and silver and copper and uranium and other mines in the West. Some estimates put that number as high as 500,000 abandoned mines. These mines stopped production decades or, in some cases, more than a century ago and have no responsible parties to carry out the proper environmental remediation. The result is that the streams and the rivers, the aquifers, the soils continue to be contaminated by mercury and thorium and arsenic and other toxic pollutants. In fact, the GAO says that more than 33,000 mines are already a danger to the public health and environment. Arizona has some 50,000 abandoned hard rock mines; California has more than 47,000; Utah and Nevada have 17,000 and 16,000, respectively.

According to the Congressional Research Service, cleaning up abandoned mine sites can cost tens of millions of dollars per mine. Well, my amendment would generate nearly $400 million over the next 10 years that would be dedicated to cleaning up these sites. This would ensure that mining companies are paying their fair share to aid our Western States in cleaning up these dangerous and toxic sites.

At this point, I would like to reserve the balance of my time, Madam Chair.


Mr. MARKEY. Then I yield myself the balance of my time.

So this is a very simple amendment. What it says is this: that these big mining companies--and the ones I'm talking about have a market capitalization of $90 billion--well, they just have to pay to drill on public lands, Federal public lands.

Right now they're paying to drill on State public lands, and when they come over to the Federal public lands it's like free parking, free rent. You don't have to pay anything.

Well, where are you going? You're going to where it's free. And who's letting them have it for free? Uncle Sam. Uncle Sucker.

So what the Markey amendment says is we're going to raise $400 million, charging them to drill for these precious minerals on Federal lands, and we're going to give the $400 million over to the States so that they can clean up their old mines where there are environmental problems.

So if you care about the environmental problems in these Western States, here's your ability to send $400 million in, collected where the big companies are now paying nothing to mine on Federal lands, in order to help deal with environmental problems there. Not in Massachusetts, not in the East, but right here, right where this mining goes on, right where the environmental disasters occur.

Vote ``aye'' on the Markey amendment.


Mr. MARKEY. This bill is ostensibly a bill that is supposed to be discussing rare Earth. It's supposed to be discussing strategic minerals that we can use in our competition to produce high-tech products that we're competing with the Chinese and others in order to produce in our country.

The kinds of strategic materials that we're talking about are scandium, cerium, europium, and terbium. These are not minerals that people ordinarily hear about. And from the high-tech manufacturing sector, we hear that they're central to their ability to be able to compete.

What the underlying bill would do is to reduce or eliminate the proper review of mining operations on public lands for virtually all types of minerals; not just for those rare Earths that I just mentioned, but also for gold, silver, uranium, and things like sand and gravel that are clearly--I think we should all be able to agree upon the fact that sand and gravel are not strategic minerals for our country. They're plentiful. They're available. We don't need to be watering down environmental laws in our attempt to be able to have enough sand and gravel and clay in the United States of America.

This amendment would not only allow for insufficient review for future mining operations, it would allow mining operations that are currently being reviewed to also escape proper scrutiny. Even worse, this amendment is drafted in such a way that it could potentially even apply to mining operations that already have been approved.

Following environmental review, mines sometimes have to put in place mitigation measures to protect the public health and the environment. Under this amendment, there is the potential that those companies could seek to have those mitigation measures thrown out. In an effort to save potentially millions of dollars, I understand what the company is trying to do. That might be good for that company, but it's not good for the environment or for the American people who already have mitigation agreements in place to protect against the mining company endangering the health, the well-being, and the water table of the area where the mining is going on. It wouldn't just cover europium; it would cover, potentially, gravel, sand, and other elements that clearly don't need that kind of protection.

This amendment would likely invite a hailstorm of litigation, which I would think that my colleagues on the other side would like to avoid. I would also like to think that my colleagues on the other side would rather have the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service, and other Federal agencies continue to move forward to approve new mines, not be bogged down relitigating mines that have already been approved.

This amendment makes a bad bill even worse and would have a number of unintended consequences that could invite litigation and actually delay the approval of future mines.

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


Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Again, I understand the business plan here of these mining interests that don't even pay royalties to drill on the Federal lands of our country. Let's just continue this business plan. That's what they're saying to themselves. Maybe we can get it out of this Republican Congress. So, in addition to not paying, let's also have rules that say we're going to water down the environmental laws, as well, not only for europium and cerium and other rare Earths, but also for sand and for gravel and for clay. I understand. That's a great business plan.

It's not for the American people. They get watered-down environmental laws, and they also don't even get paid the royalties on the Federal lands of our country. It's just one big, bad deal for the United States taxpayers, and I urge a ``no'' vote on this amendment.


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