Grijalva Presses Zinke to Explain Why DOI Now Considers Uranium a “Critical Mineral” That Demands Loose Permitting Standards

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke today asking him to clarify the process by which the Department of the Interior (DOI) determined uranium to be a “critical mineral” pursuant to Executive Order 13817, which directs DOI to assess which “non-fuel minerals” are essential to economic and national security and will therefore be eligible for looser permitting standards, among other benefits.

DOI released its final critical minerals list pursuant to the order on May 18. Under Trump’s executive order, it is now official U.S. policy to increase exploration and mining activity for each mineral on the list. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, working with other federal agencies, must now produce a report to the president within 180 days with “recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes” for identified critical minerals.

Grijalva’s letter, available in full at http://bit.ly/2ICJ2TA, argues the administration rigged the process in favor of including uranium despite the metal failing to meet important factors for inclusion. DOI received 183 requests to remove uranium from the draft list published earlier this year, including a letter from Exelon Corp. – a major nuclear electricity generation company – that highlighted uranium’s status as a “fuel mineral” (which makes it ineligible for listing) and questioning whether the uranium supply chain is at risk, which is a basic requirement for listing. “In contrast,” Grijalva writes, “my staff was only able to locate six comment letters specifically in support of designating uranium as a critical mineral, and none of those presented an argument that uranium was a non-fuel mineral.” Five of those six comment letters were from uranium mining companies or uranium mining trade associations.

As Grijalva points out in the letter, a quantitative and transparent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) “screening tool” was used as a starting point for developing the critical minerals list. Little to no information was provided to explain how minerals that are not considered critical using the USGS tool were added to the list.

The letter continues:

Given this Administration’s commitment to fighting “secret science,” it is particularly hypocritical for DOI to hide the data showing how non-critical minerals (as identified by the USGS screening tool) were added to the critical minerals list, as well as to provide no explanation for defining uranium as a non-fuel mineral other than a single line in the Federal Register notice saying it “also has important non-fuel uses.” If that is a reference to nuclear weapons, then any permitting benefits should only apply to uranium to be used for weapons, not uranium that will be used as reactor fuel. If it is a reference to something else, that needs to be explained.

Grijalva asks Zinke to explain no later than June 15 what quantitative, objective information was used to determine “criticality” for each mineral on the list and to release all interagency comments on uranium’s inclusion on the list.

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