On second try, U.S. House approves GOP bill to ease mining on federal lands

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


The U.S. House passed, 216-195, a bill Wednesday that would loosen a restriction on mining operations, reversing a vote last week to return the bill to committee.

The bill, written by Nevada Republican Mark Amodei, would clarify that mining companies can conduct mining support operations on federal lands, even without first documenting a known mineral deposit. It responds to a 2022 federal appeals court ruling restricting mining companies from using federal lands without a documented mineral deposit.

The Republican-controlled House rejected the bill last week, voting 210-206 to adopt a motion to recommit the measure to the House Natural Resources Committee. Six Republicans joined all Democrats present to oppose the bill.

Lawmakers did not make changes to the bill between the May 1 vote and Wednesday, but the presence Wednesday of several Republicans who were absent last week allowed the measure to pass on the second attempt.

“Why the heck are we back on the House floor one week after we voted on a bipartisan basis to send this bad bill back to committee?” New Mexico Democrat Melanie Stansbury said during floor debate Wednesday.

Stansbury called the bill a giveaway to mining companies, including those based in China and other countries.

Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota, who chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and led Republican floor debate Wednesday, made no mention of last week’s vote, but continued to advocate for the bill as a benefit to domestic mining interests.

Encouraging U.S. mining, especially as an alternative to importing Chinese minerals, should be encouraged, he said. Domestic environmental and labor protections are stronger than they are in other countries, he said.

“I support fair labor standards, I support high environmental standards, I support increasing our national security,” Stauber said. “In short, I support domestic mining.”

The bill was meant to address a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Republicans disagreed with, Stauber said.

The ruling blocked an Arizona mining project from dumping waste rock on U.S. Forest Service land. The court ruled that the mining company’s claim on the Forest Service land was invalid because it had not shown a valuable mineral deposit there.

Mining interests have criticized the ruling, known as the Rosemont decision, for restricting operations on federal lands.

“This is a simple fix,” Stauber said. “We believe the court erred, so it’s our job to legislate.”

China debate

Stansbury said the bill could benefit subsidiaries of foreign mining companies, including Chinese companies.

It would allow Chinese companies to control U.S. federal lands, she said.

Rep. John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, authored an amendment to the bill last month that would have banned companies or subsidiaries from adversarial nations from mining on federal lands.

The House Rules Committee declined to make that amendment in order, which New Mexico Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez noted Wednesday.

Stauber said all companies that operate in the U.S. have to comply with labor and environmental standards.

He also responded to the claim that the bill would spur a takeover of federal lands by Chinese companies. The bill would not affect foreign mining operations in the U.S., which is already allowed under existing law.

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