WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan will support a bill that would streamline the permitting process for mining of mineral resources such as copper/nickel/precious metals deposits on the eastern Iron Range.
The 8th District Democrat has received more than 200 calls on the issue, he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “It’ been fairly even.”
But the congressman cautioned that a victory for the bill in the House, which has a Republican majority, most likely will not translate into approval in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
“They have not included the House Democrats in writing this bill. And they haven’t reached out to the Senate or White House,” Nolan said.
The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 is expected to be on the House floor for a vote this week, most likely Thursday.
The measure would require a more efficient development of domestic sources of minerals vital to the U.S. economy and national security.
“Decade-long permitting delays are standing in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for local communities,” said Rep. Mark Amodai, R-Nev., who is sponsoring the legislation, which is H.R. 761. “This bill would streamline the permitting process to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources, while paying due respect to economic and environmental concerns.”
The bill would require federal officials to work with local and state governments to expedite the permitting process to ensure the U.S. would be competitive with other mining countries, such as China and India.
In addition, it would speed up the permitting process for rare earth minerals that are used for telecommunications, military technology, health care and energy technologies. Those minerals — copper, nickel, platinum and palladium — are waiting to be mined by PolyMet and Twin Metals in projects near Hoyt Lakes, Babbitt and Ely.
Some Democrats have argued that streamlining mining permits could hurt the environment.
But Nolan said he believes we can have both expedited permitting and environmental safety.
“I’m pro-mining. But I also very strongly believe we have to do it right. And we can. We have the brains and the technology to do so,” Nolan said.
However, Nolan, who defeated one-term Republican Chip Cravaack in the heavily-Democratic district in 2012, said, “I have a sense this is not going to go anywhere and that’s unfortunate because jobs are being held up on this thing.”
So, is the congressman going to hold his nose and vote yes on the bill?
“No, I’m comfortable voting for it. It’s not the bill I would write, but they’re not asking me. But it’s a start in streamlining and standardizing the permit process,” Nolan said.
“We’re holding up a whole host of taconite projects alone at Essar, Minntac, KeeTac and Mesabi Nugget.”