Geoscience Policy Monthly Review
march 2017

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natural resources

Soda ash producers may receive royalty cut

March 7, 2017

Soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate, which is used in products such as glass, detergent, and other industrial goods, may receive a royalty cut. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the "American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act" (S.546) to temporarily reduce the government royalty rate for natural soda ash production on federal land by four percent, from six to two percent.

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Representative Paul Cook (R-CA-8) introduced a similar bill (H.R.1399) in the House, which was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.


Bills introduced to permanently authorize Land and Water Conservation Fund

March 7, 2017

Two bills introduced in the Senate and House would permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The "Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act" (S.569) was introduced on March 8 to compliment the House bill “To permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund” (H.R. 502), which was introduced on January 12. In 2015, the LWCF was not re-authorized, and the program expired on September 30, 2015.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses offshore oil and gas leasing revenues to support U.S. natural and cultural heritage and recreation activities. S.569 would authorize and permanently fund the LWCF at $900 million and would not change appropriations due to fiscal year constrictions. 

S.569 was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. H.R. 502 was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Sources:, National Park Service

Domestic supply of critical materials would be boosted by new bill

March 7, 2017

Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA-50) introduced the "Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security (METALS) Act" (H.R.1407) to ensure the U.S. has access to a sustainable and secure supply of materials to safeguard our national security on March 7.

H.R.1407 would use one percent of Department of Defense internal program administrative costs of aircraft and missile weapon systems to create a Strategic Materials Investment Fund. This fund would provide loans to innovative companies that work to increase the U.S.’s supply of critical materials. Many of these materials are crucial for defense applications and technologies. The U.S. is primarily dependent upon foreign sources, especially China, for the majority of these critical materials, and this bill acts to increase the nation’s ability to produce them.  The METALS ACT would also ban the sale of U.S. rare-earth mineral mines to foreign entities.

The bill was referred to the following House committees: Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, and Armed Services.


Senate hearing examines U.S. reliance on foreign sources of minerals

March 28, 2017

Industry and agency experts examined the United States’ increasing dependence on foreign sources of minerals on March 28. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to explore opportunities to rebuild and improve the supply of critical minerals in the United States.

Critical minerals are a group of elements that are essential to the economy and vulnerable to disruptions in supply. These include rare earth elements and other metals which are vital for the production of cars, cell phones, and medical imaging technology.

In her opening statement, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) emphasized the importance of developing mechanisms to track which minerals which are critical in use and susceptible to supply disruptions, fixing the permitting system to reduce delays for new mines, and promoting research into alternatives, efficiency, and recycling options.

According to Murray Hitzman, of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in 2016 the United States was entirely reliant upon foreign sources for 20 mineral commodities, 8 of which were identified as critical. During the hearing, experts highlighted the potential threat of foreign mineral dependence to our nation’s growth, independence, and national security. They identified several areas for potential improvement, including permitting processes, extraction techniques, and domestic mapping and exploration.

Another issue highlighted during the hearing was a lack of qualified workforce in the mining sector. Over the next ten years, an estimated 70 percent of mining engineers will retire, causing a shortage of skilled workers in the industry. Dr. Rod Eggert from Colorado School of Mines suggested that increased funding for research grants would help inspire new engineers. Sen. Murkowski also indicated that developing environmentally responsible mining practices would be necessary in order to gain permission to extract minerals.

Testimony from this hearing will inform the content of the American Mineral Security Act, which is expected to be re-introduced later this year.

Source: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources