Testimony for the Record
Marvin S. Fertel
President and Chief Executive Officer
Nuclear Energy Institute
Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
April 25, 2013
The Nuclear Energy Institute1 (NEI) appreciates the opportunity to express its concern over the revision or enforcement of certain regulations promulgated, and actions taken under certain laws, by the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Environmental Protection Agency:
DOI’s withdrawal of land in northern Arizona from uranium mining activity;
Unnecessary and unreasonable regulatory delays by BLM, EPA, and other agencies involving permits for uranium mining;
BLM’s proposal to amend land segregation regulations to allow withdrawal of lands from mining activity when they are included in a pending or future wind or solar energy generation right-of-way application, or identified by BLM for potential authorization for that purpose; and,
BLM sage grouse habitat management in 11 Western states, which could unduly restrict uranium mining activity.
DOI’s Withdrawal of Land from New Uranium Mining in Northern Arizona Is Unnecessary for Environmental Protection and Removes from Production a Domestic Source of High-Grade Uranium for Energy Security
DOI has withdrawn from new uranium mining activity one million acres outside the boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park, which encompasses 1.2 million acres and includes a buffer zone to protect the Grand Canyon. There is no current or proposed uranium mining inside Grand Canyon National Park. Uranium resources in the Arizona Strip are among the highest-grade ores in the United States. These uranium resources are higher grade than 85 percent of the world’s uranium resources, according to DOI’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. The area represents as much as 375 million pounds of uranium—more than seven times U.S. annual demand.
The Arizona Strip land withdrawal is not justified because of erroneous information upon which DOI’s Final Environmental Impact Statement is based. Contrary to Secretary Salazar’s statement in announcing the land withdrawal on January 9, 2012, today’s environmental laws ensure that ore extraction and production at uranium mines have negligible impact on surrounding land, water, and wildlife. Moreover, it is a fact that modern mining practices and associated regulatory standards themselves ensure minimal environmental impact. DOI’s EIS for the land withdrawal, on the other hand, was based on uranium mining practices of the 1950s and 1960s that are no longer used and, therefore, distorted environmental impacts that will not arise given current mining techniques and regulatory requirements. In addition, miners must provide assurance that the financial resources are in place to remediate a site before any mining begins.
Even Arizona Gov. Brewer, the principal steward for environmental protection in her state, objected to the proposed withdrawal: with environmental laws currently in place, “ore extraction and production at existing uranium mines have minimal environmental impact on the surrounding land, water, and wildlife.”
It appears that DOI has ignored critical technical information, often provided by the industry, in order to justify a public policy outcome favored by the department, when public policy should be based on scientific fact. NEI has joined the National Mining Association in litigation contesting the Arizona withdrawal, contending that the underlying statute is unconstitutional and that DOI did not reasonably assess the basis for the withdrawal. NEI urges the subcommittee to instruct DOI to base all future department decisions on compelling public policy grounds and accurate technical information, not on technically flawed environmental impact statements that use outdated and incorrect information.
Unnecessary and Unreasonable BLM, EPA, and other Agency Regulatory Delays Involving Permits for Uranium Mining Resulting from Agency Inefficiency and Lack of Coordination Pose a Serious Impediment to Expansion of the Domestic Uranium Mining Industry and Send Jobs to other Countries
Nuclear energy generates nearly 20 percent of our country’s electricity, and represents 63 percent of the electricity produced by non-emitting energy sources. Yet, 90 percent of the uranium used by nuclear power plants comes from sources outside of the United States. Unnecessary and unreasonable regulatory delays pose a serious impediment to expanding the domestic uranium industry and ensuring long-term a reliable and domestic supply of nuclear power plant fuel. Thus, these delays have an adverse impact on enhancing our country’s energy security as well as economic growth, as the mining jobs that Americans could have remain in other countries.
Unnecessary and unreasonable delays in mine permitting are a widely recognized problem. Last year a bipartisan bill requiring agency action to eliminate these delays with regard to nonfuel minerals passed the House by an overwhelming majority. This year the bill, “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013” (H.R. 761), stipulates that minerals “necessary” for “electrical power generation and transmission” are considered “strategic and critical minerals,” indicating the national importance of the electric power industry. The measures prescribed by this bill for nonfuel minerals would remedy the regulatory delays occurring in the domestic uranium mining industry as well. These include streamlined National Environmental Policy Act compliance determination, coordination of review by all relevant agencies to eliminate duplication, more effective use of state agency permitting actions, time limits for each phase of the review process and overall total time limit, and a reasonable public comment process. The bill also calls for expeditious judicial review of agency actions, when they occur, with limitations on relief.
NEI respectfully asks the subcommittee to direct BLM and EPA to coordinate with each other and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and relevant state agencies to develop and follow procedures that will eliminate unnecessary and unreasonable delays in uranium mining permitting. We have every confidence that BLM can do for uranium mining what it has done for renewables development. As the Government Accountability Office has reported in Renewable Energy: Agencies Have Taken Steps Aimed at Improving the Process for Development on Federal Lands, GAO-13-189, January 2013, “What GAO Found”:
“Federal land management agencies . . . have developed or revised policies aimed at, among other things, improving the renewable energy permitting process, formalized coordination within and across agencies and with state and local governments, and devoted increased resources to processing applications for renewable energy permits. One of BLM’s most comprehensive actions was the completion of programmatic environmental impact statements for renewable energy development, intended to streamline the permitting process. The agencies also took steps to improve coordination through regularly established meetings and development of memorandums of understanding between federal and state agencies. . . . To help ensure that its actions are achieving their intended purposes, BLM issued an instruction memorandum in December 2012 aimed at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of its renewable energy permitting process.”
BLM’s Proposal to Amend Land Segregation Regulations to Allow Withdrawal of Lands from Mining Activity for Wind or Solar Energy Generation Violates the Multiple-Use Mandate of Federal Lands, Penalizing Economic Growth and Job Creation
Last year BLM set aside more than 300,000 acres in the Southwest from new mining claims for at least 20 years, designating those lands solely for solar energy development and transmission, extending the withdrawal time period of an interim rule allowing the segregations of lands exclusively for renewables use.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 requires BLM to manage public lands to accommodate multiple uses and to provide for the nation’s mineral needs so that the most benefit will accrue to U.S. citizens. Conflicts should be resolved in favor of maximum land use and benefit. The BLM proposal violates the multiple-use requirement, being overly broad in its outright segregation of lands for renewable energy use only. Moreover, the amendment is unnecessary, as conflict resolution, if necessary, is possible.
Mining and all renewable energy projects are not mutually exclusive. Wind energy or solar thermal projects and mining operations can be co-located and developed simultaneously. Solar projects consisting of fields of photovoltaic panels, on the other hand, can eliminate all other uses of the land, including grazing, recreation, and oil and gas exploration and production. Photovoltaic fields also eliminate the mining of minerals, many of which are required for renewable energy generation and transmission.
NEI is concerned about the precedent that has been set by this particular land withdrawal. Thus, when BLM is considering designating lands solely for renewable projects, NEI urges the subcommittee to direct BLM to evaluate whether other potential uses of federal land are being prevented and if benefits would be lost to the American public during the BLM process of determining sole use segregation of land for renewable energy production. Further, NEI urges the subcommittee to direct BLM to exercise caution in segregating lands in the future, given the vast amount of federal land already closed to mining operations. Finally, NEI urges the subcommittee to ask BLM to reevaluate the newly lengthened segregation period of 20 years, increased from 5 years, which is excessive and could adversely impact legitimate mining claims.
BLM Sage Grouse Habitat Management in 11 Western States May Unduly Restrict Uranium Mining Activity
BLM is taking immediate and longer term conservation actions for sage grouse priority habitat (breeding, late brood-rearing, winter concentration areas) and general habitat (additional occupied seasonal or year-round areas). Both types of habitat are being identified in collaboration with state wildlife agencies. With as many as 160 million acres potentially affected in 11 Western states, BLM’s conservation efforts could have a substantial impact on uranium mining activity on public lands.
Chairman Hastings, in his March 7, 2013 letter to DOI on behalf of the Committee on Natural Resources, points out that “there are as many as 98 separate planning strategies under consideration in 68 various areas in several states” in response to BLM’s National Technical Team Report on National Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Measures. As Chairman Hastings notes, scientific reviewers are critical of the report, with one noting that the report “does not appear to have any ‘rational scientific basis.’” Chairman Hastings’ letter concludes that “the Administration’s 2011 ESA multi-species-settlement, negotiated behind closed doors, essentially handed over prioritization of endangered species listings to special interest groups,” initiating the greater sage grouse conservation actions, which are “being driven by litigation, closed-door settlements and court deadlines, rather than being guided by sound science and the best available data and information.”
According to its long-term planning directive memorandum, BLM will establish consistent protection measures for the sage grouse and its habitat. BLM will incorporate the protection measures into one or more alternatives for analysis in the environmental impact statements that BLM will use to amend its resource management plans. These plans are scheduled for release in 2014. NEI believes there is the potential that these plans will require wholesale withdrawal of lands from mining activities with no validity examination allowed for ongoing or future mining claims.
NEI recommends close congressional oversight of the BLM process for development and implementation of the sage grouse habitat management plan. In addition, NEI asks that the subcommittee direct BLM to adopt a balanced approach to sage grouse conservation that is consistent with BLM’s statutory mandate for multiple uses of public lands and avoid or minimize adverse social and economic impacts. Finally, NEI asks that the committee review the various sage grouse conservation plans to ensure that they do in fact ensure multiple use.
1 The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is the organization responsible for establishing unified industry policy on matters affecting the nuclear energy industry, including the regulatory aspects of generic operational and technical issues. NEI's members include all entities licensed to operate commercial nuclear power plants in the United States, nuclear plant designers, major architect/engineering firms, fuel cycle facilities, nuclear materials licensees, and other organizations and entities involved in the nuclear energy industry.