A Nevada Democratic U.S. senator is looking to Congress to ensure mining companies can use established mineral claims to dump waste on neighboring federal lands, as they always had before a federal appeals court adopted a stricter interpretation of a 150-year-old law. Environmentalists widely praised the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ more restrictive ruling, which blocked the Rosemont copper mine in southern Arizona last year because the company hadn’t proven it had mineral rights on the adjacent land where the waste rock was to be buried. The ramifications of the ruling are worrisome, however, for President Joe Biden’s clean energy agenda and for key projects to mine lithium, cobalt, and other materials needed to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. In response, Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto drafted a bill she intends to introduce Tuesday with Republican Sen. James Risch of Idaho; her office told The Associated Press on Monday. The bill would amend a 1993 budget reconciliation act, but primarily clarifies definitions of activities and rights central to the 1872 Mining Law.
Two U.S. judges in Nevada have since enforced it — one in a complicated way that nevertheless allowed construction to begin at what would be the largest lithium mine in the nation near the Oregon line. Without congressional action, Cortez and other senators say critical mineral projects across the West are threatened, including those needed to expedite the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and to bolster national defense. Nevada is the biggest gold-producing state and home to some of the nation’s largest lithium deposits. Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, an independent, have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors. Industry leaders say Cortez Masto’s legislation is necessary to restore a regulatory landscape in place for more than a century and expedite the mining of materials critical to expanding sources of renewable energy.