Several surprising announcements were made recently in the U.S related to environmental policy. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision that duplicative financial responsibility requirements proposed during President Barack Obama’s administration for the hardrock mining industry are unnecessary. E&MJ readers might recall that during those eight years, the EPA seemed to be taking its cues from environmental activists rather than following the rules that already had been established.
Environmental activists challenged the non-ferrous permitting policy in Minnesota hoping to thwart the permits that have been issued to Polymet. They lost. They also challenged the permits that had been issued for HudBay’s Rosemont mine in Arizona. They won, but the decision is being appealed. The courts in the U.S. are sending mixed messages related to the permitting process, but it looks like the miners are starting to get a fair shake in the courts.
On another front, the new U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is shaking things up in a good way. He recently decided to relocate Bureau of Land Management functions from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado (See News p. 8). “At the Department of the Interior (DoI), we have been laser focused on implementing common sense improvements to our business processes while maintaining important environmental standards,” Bernhardt said during a recent visit to Nevada Gold Mines’ Cortez mine.
The Cortez Mine ranks as one of the world’s top gold mines with the Deep South expansion project increasing the acreage of the mine. Nevada Gold Mines highlighted important changes to the DoI’s administration of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process, including the environmental impact statement (EIS).
“The Deep South EIS represented a significant enhancement of the NEPA permitting process,” Nevada Gold Mines’ Executive Managing Director Greg Walker said. “In the past, each EIS approval required the publication of notices of intent and availability, which added around 18 months to the permitting timeline. The industry worked with the DoI to see if this step in the process could be streamlined, and the solution provided by then Deputy Secretary Bernhardt delivered a material improvement.”
In response to President Donald Trump’s executive order establishing discipline and accountability during the environmental review and permitting process, the DoI issued an order that requires EIS documents be completed in one year and in less than 150 pages with exceptions for those that are unusually complex or in coordination with other Federal agencies. “Additionally, to achieve improved efficiency without sacrificing any science, quality, or legal sufficiency, the DOI’s Solicitor’s Office is involved in each EIS from day one, and DoI’s bureaus review each EIS in a concurrent briefing format rather than linearly,” Bernhardt said. “This has reduced EIS timelines by nearly one year per project.”
Today’s modern mines are designed with the best environmental safeguards and technology. Miners live and work near their operations, they use the lands for recreation, and they care about environmental impacts. Granted, there is always room for improvement when it comes to environmental policy, but it looks like the industry and the regulators are finding ways to work together.