Promoting more coal and mineral mining is going to be a key objective of the new Republican Congress. Last Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed several bills in this area. One provision that became public law at the end of last year as part of the “CROmnibus” was the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act which provided for a land swap, so that Rio Tinto could acquire land for a copper mine. Inserting a mining bill onto a must-pass piece of legislation like what was done in the “CROmnibus” in December of 2014 is going to be a key component of any strategy to have legislation enacted into public law.
Congress will likely take up a bill aimed at pushing back against the Obama Administration’s Stream Buffer Zone Rule. The legislation would prevent the Administration from rewriting this coal mining regulation, which deals with disposal of mine waste near streams. This would mostly impact mountaintop mining in Appalachia. The House Committee on Natural Resources has done an extensive oversight investigation and uncovered a grossly mismanaged rulemaking process, potential political interference, and widespread economic harm the proposed regulation would cause. More oversight on this issue in both the House and Senate is likely.
Congress will likely take up a bill aimed at promoting the efficient development of strategic and critical minerals. Last Congress, the House passed H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, and a similar legislative vehicle is under consideration. Due to concerns about Chinese control of the rare earths market, the initial motivation for the strategic minerals bill is to promote and protect the development of rare earths, although the bill definitely sweeps broader than that. The bill would streamline the permitting process for mineral exploration and mining projects, and would also require coordination among agencies.
In addition to the legislative initiatives described above, both the House and Senate Committees with jurisdiction over mining will conduct vigorous oversight of the Bureau of Land Management.