Barrasso Calls on Biden Administration to Follow the Law & Streamline Critical Mineral Mine Permitting

May 19, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) sent a letter to Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland and Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack calling on them to improve permitting processes for the mining of critical minerals on federal lands. Both departments are required to improve the quality and timeliness of federal critical mineral permitting processes under Section 40206 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (PL 117-58).

Barrasso serves as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR). 

In the letter, Barrasso stresses the need to streamline permitting and increase domestic mineral production. He highlights the fact that the U.S. is no longer the world’s largest producer of minerals due in large part to regulatory uncertainty and endless red tape. Barrasso requests the administration provide an in-person briefing no later than June 3, 2022. 

Read the full letter here and below. 

Dear Secretary Haaland and Secretary Vilsack, 

During the week of February 22, 2022, the Biden Administration rolled out a multi-departmental mineral supply strategy to support American manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and national security. Several Departments released a series of reports identifying weaknesses in our domestic mineral supply chain. The Department of Energy’s report noted that increasing “domestic raw material availability” is the top opportunity to strengthen supply chains.  The Department of Defense’s report identified China’s battery mineral supply chain dominance as “by far the largest challenge” to achieving a secure battery supply chain for national defense needs.  

However, in the midst of these pro-domestic supply chain announcements, the Department of the Interior pursued an opposite course. It suspended the permit for the Ambler Road, which is essential to accessing and developing minerals in northwest Alaska. I need not mention last year’s cancellation of Twin Metals’ copper and nickel leases in Minnesota and suspension of Resolution Copper’s environmental review. These cancellations, delays, and impending regulations will have a chilling effect on American mining at a time when our country can least afford it. Additionally, in what appears to be a misguided attempt to rectify our mineral supply chain challenges, the Biden Administration invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) at the end of March. Invoking the DPA for “feasibility studies” is a misuse of the act. Furthermore, it fails to address the underlying issue – an unnecessarily lengthy and burdensome permitting process.

I write to remind you of your statutory obligation to improve permitting processes for the mining of critical minerals on federal land. Both Departments are required to implement Section 40206 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (PL 117-58), which requires your Departments to improve the quality and timeliness of federal critical mineral permitting processes. It directs you to take steps to complete the Federal permitting and review processes with maximum efficiency and effectiveness by establishing timelines for the consideration of critical mineral-related activities on federal lands, measuring permitting performance, and improving stakeholder engagement. 

On May 10, 2022, the Interagency Working Group on Mining Regulations, Laws, and Permitting convened a meeting of stakeholders to discuss reform of the Mining Law of 1872. The purpose of the working group is to “ensure that new production meets strong environmental and community…standards during all stages of mine development.”  I will be monitoring the activities of this working group closely. It is paramount that the Working Group not impede the goals of Section 40206. It must focus its efforts on streamlining permitting and increasing domestic mineral production.   

In the 1990s, the United States was the world’s largest producer of minerals. Today, we are in seventh place.  Investment in the U.S. mining sector has fallen precipitously in that time, due in large part to regulatory uncertainty and duplicative, inefficient, and costly mine permitting processes. It is not a lack of minerals, but a lack of confidence in our regulatory structure that has turned investment away. We must correct this trend by modernizing our permitting processes, as directed by Section 40206 of IIJA. 

I ask that your Departments provide our staff with an in-person briefing, no later than June 3, 2022, to provide updates on implementation of this section.