House Republican leaders are set to introduce permitting reform legislation Thursday that aims to shore up the domestic critical mineral supply chain and boost energy independence.
The Securing American Mineral Supply Chains Act, spearheaded by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., would streamline the permitting and approval processes for hard rock mining projects across the country. Minerals such as lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel are vital for both clean energy and defense technologies, but are largely mined and refined abroad.
“We’re blessed with those deposits here in the U.S. and we’re just simply not developing them,” Westerman told FOX Business in an interview. “It would be one thing if we didn’t have these mineral deposits here in the U.S. and we were having to buy them from folks like China, but the fact is that we’ve got the stuff we need here.”
“This ‘not in my backyard’ ideology that the left seems to be pushing is something we’ve got to change course on,” he continued. “We can’t continue exporting our wealth to China and Russia.”
Westerman’s bill — which House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., co-sponsored — would designate a single federal agency to coordinate mine permitting, set time limits for approval, prohibit reversals on existing mining permits, promote new research to boost domestic production and order the Department of Energy to create a strategic uranium reserve that reduces reliance on Russia for the element.
The legislation broadly aims to decrease uncertainty for companies and investors involved in mining projects.
“You’ve got mining jobs, and you’ve also got further processing,” Westerman said. “The bill addresses obstacles that are prohibiting jobs in both of those areas.”
“We already do mining better than anyplace in the world, but we want to stay on the cutting edge and refine those techniques in mining and processing.”
However, China mines about 55% of global mineral resources and refines a whopping 85%, according to a White House supply chain report last year. The U.S., by comparison, mined just 6% of global copper supplies, 5.7% of global zinc supplies, 0.67% of the global nickel supplies, 0.4% of global cobalt supplies and 0% of global graphite supplies last year.
Burdensome permitting processes and environmental reviews backed by Democrats and green groups have prevented the country from boosting mineral supplies, according to Westerman and industry groups. The Biden administration has rescinded approval or introduced roadblocks for large mining projects in Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota and Nevada since taking office, citing various environmental and wildlife protections.
Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced legislation in May that would increase restrictions on mining despite their individual support for clean energy and the green transition from fossil fuels. The bill was backed several environmental groups that also support green energy efforts.
“If you go back and looked at the Build Back Better Act — the same bill that they were saying we needed to electrify everything and get off fossil fuels, build electric cars, and they had all these incentives to decarbonize the grid,” Westerman told FOX Business. “That exact same bill had provisions in there like shutting down the Resolution Copper mine in Superior, Arizona, that could supply 20% of the U.S. demand for copper for the next 50 years,.”
“They were going to spend $350 million in taxpayer dollars to close down a mine that has $2 billion invested in it,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., unveiled his own permitting bill Wednesday evening that would seek to fast track energy projects including fossil fuel infrastructure. Manchin said the bill would be tacked onto the government funding legislation that Congress must pass by the end of the month to avoid a shutdown.
However, dozens of Democratic lawmakers led by Grijalva have announced their opposition to the bill.