Led by Republican lawmakers, the National Strategic and Critical Mineral Production Act of 2012 (H.R. 4402) passed through the U.S. House with a bipartisan vote of 256-160.
The controversial measure will help streamline permitting for U.S. strategic and critical minerals and allows the government to exempt gold, copper, silver and uranium mining on federal land from environmental reviews. However, it could be stalled in the Democratically-controlled Senate.
Supporters praised it as a job-creating bill while opponents argued it gives too much to industry and lessens environmental protections. The Obama administration said it would “undermine and remove” environmental safeguards, the Associated Press reported.
The bill would give the federal government discretion to eliminate its environmental reviews of mining projects and accept state reviews instead. It would curtail the time for environmental reviews by limiting the review period to 30 months unless mining companies and the government agreed to an extension.
It would also set a 60-day time limit to file a legal challenge to a mining project, limit injunctions to what is necessary to correct legal requirements and prohibit payment of attorneys’ fees, expenses and other costs billed to taxpayers.
Both parties agreed on one objective of the legislation: The U.S. should be allowed to compete with China to mine so-called rare earth metals — specific minerals used in devices that people use every day, such as rare earths.
Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said the bill would create jobs, end duplicative reviews, stop frivolous lawsuits and prevent regulations that hold up new mining projects for more than a decade.
“First and foremost, this is a jobs bill, and the positive economic impact of this bill’s intent will extend beyond the mining industry,” said Hastings (R-WA).
Democrats mocked the title of the bill, the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act.” They said it would go far beyond encouraging production of strategic materials by giving a break to companies mining everyday products like sand and gravel.
The bill’s author, Rep. Mark Amodei, (R-NV)., said, “The giveaway stuff is phenomenally entertaining. This does nothing to tax law. This does nothing to safety law. This does nothing to ... supplant” environmental law.