Tag Archives: bad government

A Piece of Legislative Mischief

Something else worth noting happens toward the end of this video clip, when Stauber tries to plant a green flag. “If you are at all serious about emissions reductions, you will vote to support H.R. 1. We need to pass H.R. 1 for energy independence and critical mineral dominance.”

There has already been plenty of commentary around the misleading claim that this bill would reduce emissions. Common Dreams published a pretty good rundown. Opponents have labeled H.R. 1 the Polluters Over People Act; the Center for Western Priorities notes that it would reverse many of the Inflation Reduction Act’s reforms to the onshore oil and gas leasing program; and as for the notion that this bill is “serious” about the energy transition, Chuck Schumer called that “laughable,” and declared this “wishlist for big oil” Dead On Arrival in the Senate.

Equally specious is the Trumpian claim that this legislation is a formula for “critical mineral dominance.” This US Geological Survey presentation on global distribution of critical minerals or these maps from The Wilson Center suggest just how infeasible that is. Misleading claims and rhetorical swagger on this score can lead to bad policy at home and serious missteps abroad.

Take a closer look and it’s clear that this is an act of legislative mischief. The stated legislative purpose of H.R. 1 is to “lower energy costs by increasing American energy production, exports, infrastructure, and critical minerals processing”; but when it comes to critical minerals the bill does nothing of the sort. In fact, the piece of H.R. 1 Stauber wrote (the not-so-subtly entitled  Permitting for Mining Needs Act, or Permit-MN) would do nothing to help secure “critical minerals dominance.” Instead it would effectively do away with critical minerals.

Permit-MN goes through 30 U.S. Code § 1607, the “Critical Minerals Supply Chain and Reliability” section of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and at every opportunity strikes the word “critical” from the books. It changes the title of the section to “Minerals Supply Chain and Reliability.” It removes the word “critical” from “each place such term appears” in the Sense of Congress section. That section currently reads:

It is the sense of Congress that-
(1) critical minerals are fundamental to the economy, competitiveness, and security of the United States;
(2) many critical minerals are only economic to recover when combined with the production of a host mineral;
(3) to the maximum extent practicable, the critical mineral needs of the United States should be satisfied by minerals responsibly produced and recycled in the United States; and
(4) the Federal permitting process has been identified as an impediment to mineral production and the mineral security of the United States. [emphasis mine.]

Sense becomes nonsense. And Permit-MN makes the same move in subsequent sections, striking the word “critical” wherever it appears. In other words, H.R. 1 would extend the special legislative consideration given to critical minerals, because they are “fundamental to the economy, competitiveness, and security of the United States,” to any and every mining project.

Permit-MN has already won Stauber some favorable local press but it only makes a mockery of serious concerns about national security and the energy transition. What really counts here is not the public interest, or making responsible industrial policy to meet the country’s critical mineral needs, but the immediate financial interests of mining companies. And if this is an indication of the reckless permitting reform we can expect from this Congress, then we are better off leaving things as they are.

What’s Behind Some of the Redactions in my Boundary Waters FOIA Case?

I guess this is what winning looks like.

The b(5) FOIA redactions I contested back in November have all been released in full. I’ve added these unredacted documents to the collection of records from my Boundary Waters FOIA case on documentcloud.

There are no earthshaking revelations here. The emails sent from David Bernhardt’s iPhone turn out to have been sent from his official email account; I suspected the agency might have redacted them to cover his use of a personal account. The redacted paragraphs in the leasing renewal documents from 1987-2005 concern Forest Service consent (or “no objection”) to the lease renewals, with some stipulations about an unresolved reclamation issue. These were public records of past decisions that were treated as if they held closely-guarded secrets.

Then there is the unredacted version of the Twin Metals Talking Points put together by Gary Lawkowski, Counselor to Solicitor Daniel Jorjani and fellow Koch network alumnus. These Talking Points were to accompany the Jorjani M-Opinion, the legal memo that determined Chilean mining giant Antofagasta plc had a non-discretionary right to renewal of its leases near the Boundary Waters. I talked a little about this redaction in a 2020 FOIA webinar. If there is a showpiece among these unredacted documents, this is it:

It’s worth asking why any of this — the letters, the email address, the Talking Points — was redacted in the first place. In previous posts I characterized these assertions of privilege as heavy handed. Interior misused, or abused, Exemption 5 redactions. Some look like a hamfisted effort to protect political appointees, like the full redaction of Lawkowksi’s Talking Points.

Why were these redacted? The Talking Points position the Twin Metals project as a source of critical minerals, criticize the Obama administration, and argue that the Jorjani reversal is “a victory for the rule of law by affirming that the government means what it says when it enters into contracts.” That last claim may be hyperbolical, but hyperbole hardly merits a coverup, and the Talking Points were written for public consumption. Trump himself would repeat the criticism of the Obama administration when he spoke in Duluth. Arguments about regulatory certainty are common enough and would have gotten a friendly reception in the business press. And as we saw just last week, when President Biden issued an executive order and the Senate held a hearing on critical minerals, there is plenty of bipartisan support for onshoring critical minerals production.

So why the sensitivity around Lawkowski’s arguments? Maybe this is just a case of a FOIA reviewer applying Exemption 5 indiscriminately. But why not roll out these talking points, and try to build public consensus around them? I can only guess that it was some mixture of incompetence, or an inability to coordinate a coherent critical minerals strategy (remember infrastructure week?), and arrogance: a sense that they didn’t owe the public explanations.

There is a world in which this could have been a political win, had the administration taken the time to build public support and rally Congressional allies around mining for the energy transition, or a new energy mix, and — this is the kicker — had it found a more legitimate route forward for the lease renewals. Instead, at every turn, they schemed behind closed doors, and they failed.