“Despite the vital importance of minerals, the previous Administration took dozens of anti-mining actions which, if left in place, will stifle job creation, decimate local economies and disrupt public education funding streams. This overreach locked up millions of acres of Federal lands under false pretenses and harmed our nation’s domestic mineral supply…”
Backed by several coalitions including the Women’s Mining Coalition, the Arizona Municipal Power Users Association, AZ BASS Nation, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, Southern Arizona Business Coalition, SRT Outdoors, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, and the Yavapai Cattle Growers Association, on May 2, members of the Congressional Western Caucus issued a letter to the Trump Administration defending Americans’ access to domestic mineral resources. With millions of acres of mineral-rich lands at stake, the letter draws into question actions by the Obama Administration which prohibited mineral exploration and extraction on thousands of public parcels. The letter asks the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, and Department of Agriculture to reconsider all recent mineral withdrawals. The letter’s opening paragraphs cite the political nature of Obama’s mineral withdrawals as well as their impacts on education funding, national security, domestic infrastructure and the economy:
(some portions removed for brevity)
We write to request a comprehensive review of all mineral withdrawals executed under the previous administration. Further, we ask that you take action to scrap any mineral withdrawals determined to be without merit and whose purpose served to block responsible development.
We also write to express gratitude to the Administration for cancelling the previous Administration’s proposed I0-million-acre mineral withdrawal in six Western states. As you know, that massive mineral withdrawal proposal included more than 7,000 active mining claims that was erroneously said to be necessary in order to protect the non-endangered Sage Grouse…This withdrawal was political – it was designed to appeal to donors and radical environmentalist groups rather than solve a statutory or policy problem- as BLM’s draft EIS documented that less than 0.1% of the proposed 10 million acre withdrawal area would be affected by mining in the next 20 years.
Domestic minerals are critical to our nation’s national security, economic growth and manufacturing. Almost every product and component of infrastructure we use in our everyday lives depends inextricably on processed minerals…
Despite the vital importance of minerals, the previous Administration took dozens of anti-mining actions which, if left in place, will stifle job creation, decimate local economies and disrupt public education funding streams. This overreach locked up millions of acres of Federal lands under false pretenses and harmed our nation’s domestic mineral supply…
One strategy used by previous administrations has been to indirectly prohibit mineral and other resource development through the designation of dubious “Wilderness Study Areas.” The letter points out 3 examples of damaging withdrawals, and their consequences:
1. The Arizona Strip Mineral Withdrawal
Following the discovery of highly valuable uranium deposits in the Arizona Strip in the late 1970s, job creators and energy advocates approached Congress to encourage a legislative solution that would allow new exploration and production in the area by releasing some of the 44 different Wilderness Study Areas (WSA’s) on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands…
Unfortunately, many of the same organizations involved in passing the groundbreaking Arizona Strip Wilderness Act went back on their word. In order to appease these extremist groups that double-crossed industry, elected officials and the people of Arizona and Utah; the Obama Administration unilaterally acted to upend the bipartisan and bicameral bill passed by Congress…
As a result of this mineral withdrawal, tens of millions of dollars spent by companies on exploration were wasted, more than 2,000 mining claims became essentially worthless overnight and hundreds of high-paying jobs in an extremely rural area were killed…The reality is that domestic utilities now import 95% of the uranium to power America’s 100 reactors whereas 40 years ago 100% of U. S. nuclear electricity was generated solely with U.S. mined uranium.
2. The Superior National Forest Land Grab
In the waning days of the Obama Administration, federal land management agencies took several actions that would stifle job creation, decimate local economies, and even cause significant harm to K-12 education in Minnesota. On January 5, 2017, the U.S. Fcrest Service (USFS) formally proposed a 234,328-acre federal mineral withdrawal of National Forest System (NFS) lands, for a 20-year term, within the Rainy River Watershed on the Superior National Forest, immediately placing this vast area off limits to development for up to two years while the withdrawal is considered. The total withdrawal application boundary spans approximately 425,000 acres, including 95,000 acres of state school trust fund lands.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth estimates the creation of 12,000 construction jobs and 5,000 long-term mining jobs if mining projects already being pursued in Duluth Complex are allowed to move forward. These are good-paying jobs, as the average annual mining wage in Minnesota was $78,635 in 2015. Education will be significantly harmed…
3. The Revested Oregon & California Railroad Lands
On January 13, 2017, the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a Public Land Order withdrawing more than 100,000 acres of BLM and Forest Service lands in Southwest Oregon for 20 years.
According to BLM’s Federal Register Notice proposing the Oregon withdrawal, the lands encompassed by the withdrawal are “home to some of the most diverse, complex, and potentially economic geology in Oregon. Multiple deposits containing gold, silver, chrome, cobalt, nickel, platinum group elements, manganese, mercury, coal, limestone, and quarry rock exist within the area.. ..Withdrawal of these lands from location and entry under the mining law could substantially hinder mineral development of these strategic minerals in the future.”
Numerous professional, recreational and local associations joined the signers of the letter in asking the Administration to “stand up for communities negatively impacted by unwarranted political attacks by taking action to reject any other mineral withdrawals from the Obama Administration…” They include: American Exploration & Mining Association, National Mining Association, Women’s Mining Coalition, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Limited Government, American Resources Policy Network, Alaska Miners Association, APEX, Arizona Mining Association, Arizona Municipal Power Users Association, Alizona Pork Council, Arizona Rock Products Association, AZ BASS Nation, Bass Federation AZ, Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, Hudbay Rosemont Copper Project, Idaho Mining Association, Jobs For Minnesotans, MiningMi1mesota, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, New Mexico Wool Growers Inc., Southern Arizona Business Coalition, SRT Outdoors, Sulphur Springs Valley Electiic Cooperative, Utah Mining Association, Yavapai Cattle Growers Association, Arizona District 6 Senator Sylvia Allen, Apache County Supervisor Doyel Shamley and Yavapai County Supervisors Thomas Thunnan and Rowle Simmons.
On May 3, the Department of Interior finalized its renewal of mineral leases in Minnesota which had been previously withdrawn by the Obama Administration. Late in Obama’s final term, under pressure–and in collusion with–radical environmental groups, the Forest Service and BLM cancelled existing leases belonging to Twin Metals, halting their plans to develop nickel copper in the area. The withdrawals affected nearly 250,000 acres in northeastern Minnesota where communities have depended on traditional iron and taconite mining for more than 150 years. According to an Associated Press article:
The U.S. Interior Department said Wednesday it has reinstated the mineral rights leases for a company that wants to build a copper-nickel mine near Ely in northeastern Minnesota, reversing a decision to deny the renewals that was made in the closing weeks of the Obama administration.
The department’s Bureau of Land Management informed Twin Metals Minnesota of its decision in a letter Wednesday, company spokesman Bob McFarlin said. The move followed a legal opinion from the department’s solicitor last December that concluded that Twin Metals has the right to renew its two leases, which date back to 1966.
The decision came after months of legal wrangling, in which several environmental groups sued Twin Metals and the Trump Administration.
One important impetus behind the effort to reverse unwarranted Obama-era mineral withdrawals is reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign minerals. Last December, President Trump signed an Executive Order outlining his plan to pursue greater domestic development of ‘critical minerals,’ stating, in part:
The United States is heavily reliant on imports of certain mineral commodities that are vital to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity. This dependency of the United States on foreign sources creates a strategic vulnerability for both its economy and military to adverse foreign government action, natural disaster, and other events that can disrupt supply of these key minerals. Despite the presence of significant deposits of some of these minerals across the United States, our miners and producers are currently limited by a lack of comprehensive, machine-readable data concerning topographical, geological, and geophysical surveys; permitting delays; and the potential for protracted litigation regarding permits that are issued. An increase in private-sector domestic exploration, production, recycling, and reprocessing of critical minerals, and support for efforts to identify more commonly available technological alternatives to these minerals, will reduce our dependence on imports, preserve our leadership in technological innovation, support job creation, improve our national security and balance of trade, and enhance the technological superiority and readiness of our Armed Forces, which are among the Nation’s most significant consumers of critical minerals.
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