House bill aims to boost college engineering programs

October 13, 2015

U.S. House Reps. Cresent Hardy (R-NV.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced legislation that would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to require the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to support mining schools.

Former SME Congressional Fellow Josh Hoffman, who now works full time for the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. and has a PhD in mining engineering from the University of Kentucky, helped the Congressmen develop the background information for this legislation as a way to address the problem of too few PhD-professors at mining schools in the United States.

The bill, H.R. 3734, is part of a larger push by the House natural Resources Committee to assist the mining industry, including additional legislation and an upcoming hearing.

In March 2015, SME published a technical briefing paper "Federal support for US mining schools" highlighting the need to create a pipeline of qualified graduates and faculty at U.S. universities.

That study, as well as the white paper from House Committee on Natural Resources chairman Rob Bishop, "Supporting a future faculty pipeline for ensuring solvent US mining engineering programs" found that too many mining experts are near retirement in the industry as well as academia and that major universities in the United States have shuttered mining engineering programs, which has led to this legislative call to action.

The paper also points out deficiencies within the federal government, which has many mining engineering or safety experts approaching retirement. It also pointed out that U.S. EPA doesn't have a mining engineer on staff, an issue that came up during a recent congressional hearing on the EPA-caused Gold King Mill spill in Colorado.

"The mining industry faces a particularly daunting challenge to replenishing its workforce," the paper says. "Approximately 70 percent of the mining industry's technical leaders will reach retirement age within the next 10 to 15 years, with few experienced engineers available to replace them."

"Should the number of [Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology] accredited mining programs drop below 10, it will spell a death sentence for mining programs and the U.S. will lose its pipeline for future extractive engineering expertise," the paper warns.

The Hardy-Perlmutter legislation highlights OSMRE's mandate to aid mining research but says only a small amount of money is going to mining engineering programs.

In recent years, the House Natural Resources Committee has doggedly pursued legislation to streamline mining permits on federal land as a way of incentivizing domestic production.

Environmental advocates have called such efforts a giveaway to the mining industry. Similar advocates have also pressed for more OSMRE spending on oversight.

In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski's S. 883 also aims at streamlining permits. The Alaska Republican's bill also includes some education and workforce measures in reaction to concerns about foreign dependence on rare earth and critical minerals.


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