New Battery Supply-Chain and Federal Lands Mining Law Task Forces

Tiehm’s buckwheat grows in Nevada above lithium-rich soil.
Photo: Nevada Natural Heritage Program

Supply chains aren’t something you usually read about in our world, but are relevant to mining on federal lands. This piece is from Mining News North and talks about Biden administration efforts including 1) a task force to identify sites where critical minerals (read batteries) can be responsibly produced and processed in the U.S., 2) and another to propose new legislation for mines on federal land, and to 3) fully explore “opportunities to reduce time, cost, and risk of permitting without compromising strong environmental and consultation benchmarks”.

It sounds like a good thing for BLM and possibly the FS that this task force will identify sites…it also sounds like the Administration will have to walk a challenging line between projects being developed “at the highest standards for environmental protection” and streamlining permitting. Perhaps they will figure something out that can be applied to other kinds of projects.

There have been some lithium mine controversies already. There’s lithium mine vs. endangered buckwheat in the press. Also the Thacker Pass potential mine has generated controversy..

Below are some excerpts:

The administration addressed the battery metals and other critical minerals needed in a June report that followed a 100-day assessment of the vulnerabilities to America’s supply chains.

In preparation for the “sustainable sourcing and processing of the critical minerals used in battery production all the way through to end-of-life battery collection and recycling,” the White House is assembling a working group of federal agencies led by the U.S. Department of Interior and supported by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to identify sites where critical minerals can be responsibly produced and processed in the U.S.

“This working group will collaborate with the private sector, states, Tribal Nations, and stakeholders – including representatives of labor, impacted communities, and environmental justice leaders – to expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States,” according to a statement outlining the administration’s strategy to strengthen supply chains.

The White House, however, wants to ensure that any such critical mineral projects are developed at the highest standards for environmental protections.

To identify gaps in mining-related statutes and regulations that may need to be updated by Congress, the White House is assembling a second federal interagency team composed of staff from DOI, USDA, EPA, and others with expertise in mine permitting and environmental law.

Information collected by this group will be used for an expected push for U.S. lawmakers to establish a whole new mining regulatory framework with strong environmental standards throughout the entire mine life, from development to reclamation.

“We recommend Congress develop legislation to replace outdated mining laws including the General Mining Law (GML) of 1872 governing locatable minerals (including nickel) on federal lands, the Materials Disposal Act of 1947 to dispose of minerals found on federal lands, and the Mineral Land Leasing Act of 1920 among others,” the Biden administration wrote. “These should be updated to have stronger environmental standards, up-to-date fiscal reforms, better enforcement, inspection and bonding requirements, and clear reclamation planning requirements.”

The three laws cited by the White House, however, are not related to the environmental regulations governing mining in the U.S. Instead, they detail how federal lands are prospected and staked (Mining Law of 1872); how minerals on federal lands are sold or leased (Materials Disposal Act of 1947); and royalties on mineral products on federal lands (Mineral Land Leasing Act of 1920).

Much of the federal regulations relating to environmental standards and permitting process for mining projects in the U.S. are found within the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The NEPA process is both renowned for its strong environmental protections and infamous for the nearly a decade it takes for a large domestic mine in the U.S. to gain permits under its process.

“Mine permitting in the U.S. takes on average seven to 10 years, and often longer,” National Mining Association President and CEO Rich Nolan wrote in a February column for RealClearEnergy. “In Canada and Australia, nations with comparably robust environmental standards, permitting is achieved in just two to three years.”

Earlier this year, the Biden administration indicated that it would look to these jurisdictions with more efficient mine permitting processes to feed much of the needed minerals and metals into American supply chains.


As such, the White House is directing the federal mining regulation working group to fully explore “opportunities to reduce time, cost, and risk of permitting without compromising strong environmental and consultation benchmarks.”

3 thoughts on “New Battery Supply-Chain and Federal Lands Mining Law Task Forces”

  1. At bottom, the energy transition can be described colloquially as a transition from drill, baby, drill, to mine, baby, mine

    Details galore lurk here, but the basic situation is fairly straightforward. Mining is imperative to the renewables.

  2. Much better to plan – “to identify sites where critical minerals can be responsibly produced and processed in the U.S” – than to play the “bring me a rock” game. (Maybe that would also be a good way to pose the timber suitability/production question in national forest planning?)

  3. There is such a huge disconnect with energy. Talking to a proponent of solar PV farms the other day. He said PV farms were expected to hit 1 million acres in a decade or so in Virginia (1/27th the landscape), 1 million acres that will no longer be farms, pastures, forests….saw no environmental issue at all. If it takes 1 million acres to put a few thousand acres of (if that) gas wells out of production in SW Virginia, he thought that was worthwhile. The more I deal with green energy types, I realize they are just as bad as the coal folks AND a lot less knowing about the environment, landuse, etc.


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