The administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump is set to loosen mining regulations and give the green light to new mining projects before leaving office this month, without Joe Biden being able to reverse some of the changes.
Administration officials told Reuters they plan to publish a series of decisions on January 15 that will expand miners' access to federal lands, finalize Lithium Americas Corp's Nevada lithium mine, and approve a land swap for Rio's Arizona copper project. Tinto Ltd. and will take a number of other revolutionary steps.
Biden will only be able to reverse some of Trump's changes, especially the proposed rules pending regulatory review. But some of Trump's moves will be either irreversible or require Biden to restart the lawmaking process that has been going on for many years.
Trump administration officials are finalizing legislative rule changes that will add the US mining industry to the fast-track permitting industry, as part of a Republican-finalized law signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
The law, known as FAST-41, was intended to make it easier to issue permits for utility projects such as power lines.
"Congress never envisioned FAST-41 to cover the mining sector," US Representative Raul Grijalwa of Arizona, chairman of the House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee, wrote late last month in an attempt to stop the change.
Officials may also permit the storage of mine waste, known as tailings, on federal soil. The proposed amendment essentially codifies existing legal practice, which environmentalists consider vague.
The US National Mining Association (NMA) says it supports regulatory optimization, especially the FAST-41 change.
“The American mining industry is key to successfully rebuilding our nation's infrastructure,” said Rich Nolan, President of the NMA.
Biden's Transition Team said its new administration “January 20 will begin to take swift and bold action across the federal government to reverse the Trump administration's harmful policies, including climate and environmental policies, to halt or postpone Trump's devastating midnight rules. ”
Trump officials are also on the verge of approving several mining projects or significantly advancing the regulatory review process.
One, the Lithium Americas Thacker Pass project in Nevada, is expected to be approved on January 15th, according to an official from the Bureau of Land Management.
“It was a good process of working with the state and federal authorities. We look forward to this decision, ”said John Evans, CEO of Lithium Americas, which has been developing the project for over a decade. Lithium is a key component in electric vehicle batteries.
At least 10 other projects have been deemed important enough for the recovery of the US economy after the coronavirus pandemic, so they must receive expedited approval in accordance with a presidential decree signed last June.
Several gold and phosphate fertilizer projects in Nevada and Idaho, respectively, have also either recently been approved by Trump or have seen significant improvements in the permitting process.
In Utah, Twin Bridges Bowknot Helium developers have received approval to drill seven wells, build roads, and install pipelines to produce helium in the Labyrinth Canyon Desert. Environmentalists say the project was accelerated ahead of Biden's inauguration.
At the end of December, the court imposed a temporary ban on the project, pending full review.
In South Dakota, the Dewey-Burdock uranium mine received several important permits from the US Environmental Protection Agency in November, although other permits will be required to open it. The mine, like the Rio project in Arizona, is vehemently opposed to Indian tribes who claim it will pollute their waters.
In Arizona, Trump's plans to approve the land swaps required by Rio to build a copper mine have met with stiff resistance from Native Americans who regard the land as sacred. Last year, Rio fired its CEO after overseeing the destruction of sacred indigenous caves in Australia.
Its new CEO has pledged to "restore trust" among indigenous peoples, although Native Americans say the company is prepared to make the same mistake in Arizona as it did in Australia.