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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 4402, National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. POLIS. I thank the gentleman from Utah for yielding me the customary 30 minutes. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to the rule and the underlying bill, H.R. 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act. Much of what the gentleman from Utah said I agree with in terms of the strategic need for critical minerals for our industrial and military production. However, that's only a teeny part of what this bill does.

Now my colleague, Mr. Tonko, offers an amendment that would in fact limit this bill, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production. In addition, it's my understanding that bipartisan legislation has emerged from the Natural Resources Committee that would address the strategic need for critical minerals. However, that is not the bill that is being brought forth under this rule. Instead, we essentially have yet another rollback of public health, of water and environmental protections for the mining industry, which is our Nation's top toxic polluter.

So I'm very disappointed that the House majority has chosen to bring forward this bill instead of the bipartisan bill that passed committee. It shuts out several sensible amendments that have been offered by Democratic Members. And the underlying legislation doesn't limit itself to strategic and critical minerals. In fact, it's so broad that, despite the bill's title, it would expand mining companies' ability to mine on public land for nearly all minerals, including plentiful minerals like sand and clay and even coal. So this really is not a discussion of strategic and critical minerals if we're talking about sand and clay.

In fact, yesterday, in our Rules Committee, Chairman Hastings admitted during the Rules Committee hearing when questioned by Mr. McGovern that this bill applies to a lot more than strategic and critical minerals. In fact, Chairman Hastings, when asked on this issue, said:

We talk about a form of minerals as being rare Earth. There's no question they are rare. But to say that some minerals aren't critical to our well-being I think defies logic.

Chairman Hastings went on to cite the use of sand and gravel to build our interstate system as an example of a critical use.

A lot of what the gentleman from Utah said is true and is important. However, when we're talking about sand and gravel, they don't fit the commonsense definition of the Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act that were cited by the gentleman of being of national importance.

So the chairman of the committee has made clear this bill isn't about rare Earth minerals at all. It's not the kind of bipartisan bill that's targeting critical resources. Rather, it's about giving mining companies a blank check to take anything they want out of the ground anywhere, anytime.

Under the bill, the mining sponsor is handed control over the timing of the permitting decision, irrespective of the project's impacts on natural, cultural, historic resources, its local impact, taking into account the effect on the economies of our counties, and jobs. Rather, it gives the mining companies a blank check. It permits nearly all mining operations to circumvent meaningful public health and environmental review processes. And when you consider the large and complex mining operations covered under this bill, it's even more inappropriate to reduce or eliminate the public comment or review process because of the sheer size of some of these projects.

The actual harm that this legislation would produce is far-reaching. As drafted, the legislation threatens to increase pollution of water in our Western United States. For States already dealing with the extreme drought conditions like my home State of Colorado, also the site of several deadly fires, the last thing we need is to jeopardize our already scarce water resources. We can't afford to affect our water quality and quantity with additional mining operations without understanding their impacts on our water supplies.

Democrats and Republicans agree that we should be crafting a strategy to develop our rare Earth and other critical minerals. In fact, a year ago in this very same Congress the Natural Resources Committee marked up H.R. 2011, a bill supported by the National Mining Association and a bill that had strong bipartisan support that would help develop our rare Earth and other critical minerals. So why aren't we considering that bill on the floor today? Instead, we're considering an ideological bill that will go nowhere and has a statement of opposition from the President as well.

Why the House majority sees a need for this legislation to promote mining is somewhat mystifying, considering that under President Obama's administration the average time it takes to approve a plan of operation for a mine has decreased substantially. According to BLM data, plans of operation for hardrock mines are being approved 17 percent more quickly under the Obama administration than the Bush administration. Eighty-two percent of plans of operation were 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--more than a thousand-acre mine--on public lands. There's a lot of issues--county issues, civic issues, economic issues--around a thousand-acre mine. And there needs to be a thoughtful process about how it affects communities where it is located and how it affects air and water.

Mining companies already extract billions of dollars of minerals from our public lands. This bill would continue to line the pockets of an industry that already has significant profit margins, and actually this bill jeopardizes jobs and our economic recovery by failing to take into account the local economic impact of mines--and not mining for strategic and critical mineral production but mining for nearly everything under the sun, including clay and gravel, again.

So I think, again, while we can be grateful that President Obama has accelerated the approval process, there's certainly work to continue. I urge my colleagues to bring forth a bipartisan bill that would specifically look at real strategic and critical minerals. But this bill and this rule are unduly restrictive, and I encourage my colleagues to vote ``no.'' I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. POLIS. Well, in briefly addressing the gentleman from California, I would encourage him to support President Obama's proven track record of success in accelerating the access to public lands, a 17 percent improvement in speed of access over the Bush administration.

With that, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Tonko).


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