Departments of Interior, Agriculture Advance Mining Reforms To Protect Tribal Communities

Coal Mining

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture announced that the agencies are implementing new regulatory and policy recommendations designed to protect tribal interests and resources from the impacts of mining, increase tribal engagement in mining proposals, and promote well-designed mining activity that accounts for climate change and current standards and technologies. The announcement was made during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring that future mining efforts protect tribal lands, while also ensuring that Indigenous communities benefit from mining operations through jobs, economic development, and new infrastructure,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Too often in Native history, tribal displacements, forced relocations and other tragedies were driven by the expansion of mining. We must acknowledge and remedy these injustices as our nation considers expanding domestic mining in order to produce the minerals that are necessary for current technologies and clean energy projects.”

“USDA is committed to addressing deeply embedded rules and policies that disadvantage tribal nations and communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These regulations and policies will protect Indigenous interests and resources from mining impacts and give them a voice in mining activities before they begin.”

“As we increase production of the critical minerals necessary to build a clean energy economy, we must acknowledge mining’s historical legacy of deep injustice for tribes and tribal communities,” said Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council. “Our generation must and will do better, learning from our past mistakes. These efforts today by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture demonstrate our commitment to ensure that the voices of impacted tribes are heard and their rights are respected.”

In addition to incorporating the newly released Presidential Memorandum and updated Departmental Policy and Procedure on Tribal Consultation, and the new Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science Technology Policy on Indigenous Knowledge, Secretaries Haaland and Vilsack are directing their agencies to:

  • Begin informing all potentially impacted tribal governments of exploration “notices” when those notices are received by the agency, and create an easy-to-use website that will allow tribal governments and the general public to see what exploration notices have been submitted on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed public lands (specific to the Interior Department)
  • Begin the development of a system that will allow tribal governments to confidentially specify geographic areas of interest and receive notifications when mineral exploration or mining proposals occur within those areas
  • Invite tribal governments to participate in pre-exploration or mining plan submission meetings with mine developers
  • Explore the formation of intergovernmental teams composed of federal, tribal, state and local government officials to facilitate information-sharing and identification of issues of concern related to mining proposals
  • Consult with tribal governments on reclamation plans and appropriate financial assurance levels for mineral exploration and mining proposals, and engage tribes in discussions about desired post-mining land uses
  • Make additional efforts to include tribal governments who have a current or historical presence in a potentially-impacted area, or who would be impacted by mineral development, to participate in the NEPA process as cooperating agencies

These recommendations were informed by formal consultation and direct engagement with tribal governments, as well as written letters and comments from tribal governments, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Corporations, and individuals, and preview a forthcoming report from the Interagency Working Group on Mining Regulations, Laws, and Permitting specific to tribal nations.

In addition, the U.S. Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council recently announced it will set aside $5 million for federally recognized tribes to enhance tribal engagement in the permitting review and authorization process for FAST-41 covered projects.