161 Social Justice, Conservation Groups Oppose Harmful Mining Provisions in Manchin’s Industry Side DealCongress must demand more mining oversight, not less
WASHINGTON — Today 161 conservation and social justice organizations sent a letter to members of Congress opposing the industry-give away “side deal” demanded by Senator Manchin as part of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. The signatories highlighted concerns over the human and environmental impacts from reckless hardrock mining and processing the side deal would cause. The letter is unequivocally clear that this side deal must be rejected in its entirety as well as any other legislation that weakens our core environmental laws, undermines the cause of environmental justice, or further benefits fossil fuel and mining industries.
The letter pointed out that the side deal would lead to “more extraction, less community input, less scrutiny of potential impacts, and less accountability when harm occurs.” A leaked draft of the side deal, complete with an American Petroleum Institute watermark, is an extractive industry wishlist.
If passed, the side deal would gut some of the nation’s bedrock environmental and cultural protection laws, including the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act–laws that communities rely on to protect themselves from irresponsible development. Nowhere is this more true than in communities affected by hardrock mining proposals on public lands, which are governed by the woefully inadequate 150-year old General Mining Law, which allows mega corporations to mine valuable publicly owned minerals for free, while leaving the taxpayers and communities to bear the burden of polluted water and destroyed lands.
This outdated 1872 Mining Law was designed to “settle” the West, in part to displace and eradicate the Indigenous Nations already living there, and still privileges mining over all other uses. According to MSCI, the vast majority of key mineral reserves and resources in the U.S. are located within 35 miles of Native American reservations.
“We need more rigorous and consistent mining regulation and review processes to reduce the damage and public costs imposed by mining, not processes that remove science and community input,” the letter states.
The leaked details of the draft side deal include the following provisions:
- A mining company could request that federal agencies elevate their own preferred mine plans during public review, and preemptively limit the time and scope of that review.
- Some mining projects will get designated for special fast-track treatment with shorter comment periods that limit the public’s access to information and ability to meaningfully participate.
- Whole categories of mining or mineral processing projects may be excluded from meaningful study altogether.
As the signatories pointed out, there is a right way to address NEPA and environmental justice concerns through passing legislation in normal order to accomplish the protections and process needed to uplift communities and their concerns. These are embodied in the Environmental Justice for All and Requirements, Expectations, and Standard Procedures for Effective Consultation with Tribes (RESPECT) Acts (HR 2021 and HR 3587, respectively). These bills, led by Reps. Raul M. Grijalva and Donald McEachin, strengthen NEPA, the Civil Rights Act, and tribal consultation mechanisms to help ensure our government listens to frontline communities and empowers them to hold our government accountable. Tacking on provisions from these bills to this industry side deal will not mitigate the harms. A long-term solution is for Congress and the President to operationalize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, including upholding the need for impacted communities to give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent for extractive projects.