Legislation could exempt PolyMet and other sulfide mine proposals from environmental review

Rep. Chip Cravaack has introduced an amendment to legislation being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives today which would seriously hinder citizen oversight of mining proposals on public lands.

H.R. 4402 is a dangerous bill seeking to allow mine projects to be exempted from the National Environmental Policy Act and other key laws which ensure communities can protect their water and other resources when mines are proposed.

The bill would let federal agencies to exempt mining projects from review under NEPA. This would remove the ability for the public to review and comment on proposals, for one thing. It also caps the federal permit process at 30 months — an arbitrary timeframe, especially considering how complex projects like PolyMet are. And it would allow the government to exempt mine proposals from the law (Equal Access to Justice Act) which ensures citizens can file legal challenges to projects.
Cravaack’s amendment (PDF), which was approved this morning, would let mine proposals already involved in the review and permitting process to be included in the law.
In a statement released yesterday (PDF), the Obama administration announced its opposition to H.R. 4402 because it would put America’s environment at risk:
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4402, which, though vaguely worded, would undermine and remove the environmental safeguards, for, at a minimum, almost all types of hardrock mines on Federal lands. Notwithstanding the title and the stated purpose of the legislation, H.R. 4402, as reported by the House Natural Resources Committee, is drafted in such a manner as to cover virtually all hardrock mining on Federal lands.  Protection of the public through sound Federal decision-making would be circumvented by the bill’s provisions, which include, among other things, the elimination of appropriate reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and the circumvention of public involvement in and the formulation of alternatives to any mining proposal.  The Administration strongly supports the development of rare earth elements and other critical minerals, but rejects the notion that their development is incongruent with environmental protection and public involvement in agency decision-making.
The legislation also undermines existing law calling for the multiple uses of public lands by placing mining interests above all other uses.  This change has the potential to threaten hunting, fishing, recreation and other activities which create jobs and sustain local economies across the country.  Furthermore, the Administration opposes the legislation’s severe restrictions on judicial review. While the legislation purports to limit litigation, its extremely short statute of limitations and vague constraints on the scope of prospective relief that a court may issue are likely to have the opposite effect.
 Contact your Representative today about this legislation.
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