Republican’s win of US House majority could lead to shorter mine permitting timelines
Mining projects held up by the lengthy and complex permitting process in the United States and those projects that have yet to begin the process could potentially see those permitting timelines shortened considerably after Republicans won control of the House of Representatives on Nov. 16.
Reuters reported that boosting American production of battery minerals and other critical minerals necessary for the energy transition is a top agenda item for a number of lawmakers who will take their seats in January. The majority control of the House gives them the power to influence how regulators approve or deny mining projects.
Republican leaders had promised voters during the election they would cut the mining permit review timeline in half and boost domestic electric vehicle (EV) mining, rather than seek more supply overseas. They also want federal agencies to coordinate better when reviewing mine permit applications and to place time limits on when lawsuits against mines may be filed.
“We need to step up our mining activities if we’re going to have an electrified economy,” said Representative Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican who is poised to become chair of the powerful House Natural Resources Committee.
Westerman and other Republicans will be partially stymied by Republicans’ failure to wrest control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats.
“We’re not talking about gutting environmental laws,” Westerman told reporters. “We're talking about making environmental laws work so we can protect the environment and have a strong and vibrant economy at the same time.”
Westerman said he has spoken with Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and the chair of the Senate energy committee, about permitting reform and is “hopeful that it’s an area where we can work together.”
With their newfound control, Republicans could threaten to withhold funding from agencies perceived as taking too long to approve mines. President Joe Biden, though, will still oversee the permitting process.
Miners and their Republican supporters, who have long complained that the U.S. mine permitting process is capricious, say they are hopeful for some changes in the new Congress.
“We’re optimistic that the oversight function will be robust and that the (Biden) administration will comply with legal statutes already laid out,” said Rich Nolan, head of the National Mining Association, an industry trade group.
In addition Republicans plan to investigate Biden’s decisions to halt development of Antofagasta Plc’s Twin Metals copper project in Minnesota and Rio Tinto Plc’s Resolution Copper project in Arizona.
“We want the politics to be out of the permit review process and let the facts, the science and the truth be the determinant as to whether a mine moves forward,” said Rep. Pete Stauber, a Minnesota Republican set to become chair of the House's Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which oversees mining on federal land.
Biden's regulators are also scrutinizing a Nevada lithium project from ioneer Ltd. Proposed mines from Lithium Americas Corp and Polymet Mining Corp. face stiff court challenges.