Mining pumps on average nearly a billion dollars into Idaho’s economy every year. Idaho, along with Nevada and Utah are considered mining friendly states. But the industry is frustrated that it can take years before permits are issued and work can get underway. That’s why mining officials appealed to state lawmakers this week to help speed up the regulatory process. As Earthfix reporter Aaron Kunz explains it’s a proposition that has environmentalists worried.
Idaho’s mining companies supply raw materials that end up in a wide variety of products -- from computer parts to fertilizers.
The state is one of a few places in the U.S. with regulations that the mining industry likes. Still, companies say they’re frustrated with federal regulations that are meant to protect workers and the environment.
The concern, according to company officials, is how long it takes before they learn whether they’ll get the mining permits. They say the wait can be as long as 10 years.
Anne LaBelle of Midas Gold says that hurts the industry.
LaBelle: “What investors want is certainty. Idaho is an extremely safe place to bring money. But our investors consistently ask us, what about permitting timelines?”
These investors want to know when they will start to see a return on their investment. That can’t happen until after a company starts extracting minerals like gold, silver or phosphate. If regulations are strict or rarely issued. Investors might not fund exploration efforts.
Jack Lyman with the Idaho Mining Association says the industry wants state lawmakers to support efforts to speed up the permitting process.
Lyman: “I think it’s that constant pressure we need to put on that federal government to make timely decisions. I’m not saying they have to say yes, I’m just saying they have to give us a decision in a timely manner.”
John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League says it’s important to take time to study a permit application. It can alert federal regulators to potential problems.
Robison: "When you streamline or take shortcuts through this permitting process. You’re at risk of threatening clean water, wildlife and public health with toxic mining waste.”
This was a chance for state lawmakers to hear from the industry. Now its up to them whether they’ll try to ease the permitting process on state lands. But more than half of Idaho land is federally managed, which means state lawmakers’ ability to intervene is limited.
Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio