Trump’s infrastructure plans could speed US mine permitting reform

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Published: Friday, 07 July 2017

The long-awaited reform of the US mine permitting system could be accelerated if the measures piggyback their way through the legislatures within a larger infrastructure investment bill, a pet project of US president Donald Trump, a spokeswoman for the house committee tells IM.

Reforms in the US mine permitting system could be sped up if they form part of a proposed infrastructure shakeup, a spokeswoman for House Committee on Natural Resources suggested to IM

US president Donald Trump came to power in part on a plan to drive $1 trillion of investment in domestic infrastructure, through tax credits for private investment.

Consequently, this policy has strong support from the White House. 

Furthermore, the spokeswoman noted that there was "consensus on both side of the isle", signifying that both Democrat and Republican are in theory supportive of the idea of increased infrastructure spending.

Political moves to reform the US mine permitting system have seen four legislative attempts fail, over the previous three Congresses, as successive legislation fails to clear the required hurdles in time.

Although the White House has not yet endorsed the idea of including mining reform in its proposed infrastructure policy, such a move would help the matter move up the legislative agenda.

"Everything we’ve seen so far suggests the new administration [will be supportive of mining]," she said.

Permit reform

A key concern for mining groups in the US is the length of time it takes to gain the necessary permits for mining operations.

Both mining groups and the lower house committee responsible for mining noted that the process of gaining such permits in the US is considerably slower than in other jurisdictions such as Australia.

A report by SNL Metals and Mining found that it takes an average of seven-to-10 years to obtain permits to commence operations in the US, compared to two years in Canada and Australia.

Hopes for a reform in the US mine permitting system were dashed last year, when Congress came to an end before a compromise mining bill could be put in front of the president for approval.

The House of Representatives bill contained the requirement that projects were either approved or rejected within 30 months, a provision hailed by mining lobby groups.

But the end of the previous Congress essentially moved the legislative process back to square one in early 2017. Now the bills will need to be passed afresh by the newly elected legislatures.

The latest iteration of the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act has been introduced by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

'Meandering through the senate’

Legislation to reduce the time it takes new mines in the US to gain the necessary permits is currently winding its way through both the lower and upper houses of the US Congress.

A spokeswoman for Mark Amodei, the Nevada congressman sponsoring the lower house bill, told IM that "if history is any indicator, it usually passes the house sometime in the fall," citing cases in past congresses.

A spokesman for the American Exploration & Mining Association (Aema) told IM that the lower house bill was likely to be passed by committee without delay.

But a similar bill is also making its way through the Senate.

When overlapping bills are passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the bills are taken to conference with negotiators from both sides working to produce a compromise version.

So until the Senate bill can be passed, the lower house legislation will have to cool its heels. Only when both houses have produced their bills can negotiation begin. 

Nobody IM spoke to was willing to estimate a timescale for the passage of the Senate bill, but there was a consensus that it would take significantly longer than the lower house’s legislation.

If the bill is not signed before the end of the current congress in January 2019, the process will have to restart.