Interior Outlines Reforms Needed To Promote Responsible Mining on Public Lands

Coal Mining

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden-Harris administration’s Department of the Interior-led Interagency Working Group on Mining Laws, Regulations, and Permitting (IWG) released its final report containing recommendations to reform and improve the way mining is conducted on U.S. public lands. The report will inform efforts to modernize the Mining Law of 1872 and related federal permitting processes as part of the administration’s efforts to increase domestic supplies of critical minerals and uphold the strongest environmental, labor and community engagement standards.

The rapid buildout of a clean energy economy is fueling a significant increase in demand for responsibly sourced critical minerals that power everything from consumer electronics to electric vehicle batteries. President Biden’s Executive Order 14017, America’s Supply Chains, ordered a review of vulnerabilities in our critical mineral and material supply chains. Following that first-of-its-kind assessment, the Interior Department launched the IWG to review laws, regulations, policies and permitting processes pertaining to hardrock mineral development. Recommendations in the report will help ensure a sustainable and responsibly sourced domestic supply of minerals, which are key to meeting the nation’s climate, infrastructure and global competitiveness goals.

“To meet the needs of the clean energy economy while respecting our obligations to tribal nations, taxpayers, the environment, and future generations, we need a modernized approach to make sure mining in this country is sustainable, responsible and efficient,” said IWG Chair and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau. “The Biden-Harris administration is committed to a whole-of-government effort in coordination with federal, state and local partners to update our mining policies and promote the sustainable and responsible domestic production of critical minerals.”

“The Department of Energy strongly believes sustainability throughout the supply chain is paramount as this administration continues to invest in America through the development of next generation clean energy technologies,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk. “We are committed to engaging communities, ensuring we provide secure, resilient, and environmentally friendly ways to source critical minerals and raw materials.”

“This report represents months of interagency policy work and over 50 meetings with industry, environmental groups, labor unions and tribes across the country, following the President’s Day One Executive Order on strengthening America’s Supply Chains,” said Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Joelle Gamble. “Securing a safe, sustainable supply of critical minerals will support a resilient manufacturing base for technologies at the heart of the President’s Investing in America agenda, including batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels.”

The report provides more than 60 recommendations to Congress and federal agencies, including for increasing public and tribal engagement, making permitting processes more consistent and predictable for industry, and protecting impacted communities and workers, as well as the environmentally and culturally sensitive lands they cherish. The report also identifies reforms to revitalize federal support for research into advanced, lower-impact mining and exploration technologies and methods, workforce development, and the need for increased resources to address the legacy of abandoned and unreclaimed hardrock mining sites that continue to pollute land and water throughout the country.

The report was informed by input received at dozens of meetings — including with industry, states, stakeholders, and the public — multiple government-to-government consultations with tribes, and a review of over 26,000 comments from the mining industry, state officials, equipment manufacturers, academics, legal experts, environmental justice experts, the public and more. 

In its report, the IWG concluded that fundamental reform of the Mining Law of 1872 – the 151-year-old law that still governs access to mineral resources on hundreds of millions of acres of public land in the United States – is necessary to achieve the best outcomes for communities and tribes impacted by mining, America’s clean energy and climate goals, and certainty for industry.

The report recommends that Congress work with the mining industry, tribes, mining communities, environmental organizations, labor organizations, and federal agencies to craft a transition to a new leasing system that increases certainty and stability for industry, strengthens domestic mineral supply chains, advances environmental sustainability, and fosters early and meaningful community engagement, while protecting existing mining claims and ensuring that an orderly transition does not disrupt near-term needs for securing responsibly-sourced critical minerals. 

In the near-term, the IWG report makes dozens of recommendations for federal agencies that can be undertaken without Congress, including that federal permitting agencies adopt identified best practices for engagement, with early and extensive engagement with applicants, agency and intergovernmental partners, and impacted communities and tribes prior to the start of the formal environmental review process. This can help alleviate conflicts and speed permitting reviews, while improving outcomes for public health and the environment. The IWG report also encourages exploration and mining companies to adhere to established best practices, such as beginning community and tribal engagement at the earliest possible stage, providing financial support to allow communities and tribes to hire independent technical experts, developing community and tribal benefit agreements, and considering independent and transparent reporting of air and water pollution monitoring data.

The IWG report recognizes that the rapidly increasing demand for critical minerals will drive a surge in mine planning, permitting and environmental analyses. The report therefore recommends increased investment in mining-related training and agency resources to increase pre-application engagement and efficiently coordinate and complete environmental and permitting reviews.

The IWG report responds to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s direction to federal agencies to report to Congress on recommendations to improve mineral permitting and to coalitions of tribes and mining groups that independently filed rulemaking petitions requesting mining reforms. Pursuant to the Law, within 90 days the Interior and Agriculture Departments will develop a performance metric to track improvements in permitting timelines.

The report follows a previous announcement from the Interior and Agriculture Departments on steps to implement 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.