Fast-41 permitting of critical US mine
Metal Tech News - May 10, 2023
Last updated 5/15/2023 at 12:15pm
South32 Hermosa zinc-manganese project in Arizona is first US mining project approved for streamlined permit process.
To speed the domestic production of manganese, a critical metal used in lithium-ion batteries, the U.S. Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council has added South32 Ltd.'s Hermosa project in Arizona to the Fast-41 process.
"The Permitting Council is pleased to see the first-ever critical minerals mining project accepted for coverage under our unique program," said Permitting Council Executive Director Christine Harada.
Fast-41 is a process established under the Obama administration to improve the timeliness, predictability, and transparency of federal environmental review and permitting for domestic infrastructure projects.
Short for Title 41 of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, Fast-41 established the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC), an independent federal entity that provides a one-stop shop capable of coordinating permits across different federal agencies. This ability to coordinate with federal regulatory agencies helps to streamline and shorten the often long and arduous approval process for large infrastructure projects that are eligible for the program.
In 2021, certain mining projects that supply the minerals and metals needed for energy, communication, and transportation infrastructure in the U.S. were also deemed eligible for Fast-41.
As a future producer of manganese and zinc, both deemed critical to the United States, Hermosa is the first mine project to be accepted for streamlined permitting under Fast-41.
The manganese produced at Hermosa is considered especially critical to the U.S. due to its use in the lithium batteries powering electric vehicles and storing renewable energy.
There has been no manganese mining on American soil since the 1970s, and the U.S. is currently 100% dependent on foreign sources for this critical battery metal.
"President Biden has committed to securing a domestic supply of responsibly sourced critical minerals, and manganese is a key part of the electric vehicle and stationary storage battery supply chain," Harada said.
Conservation groups were surprised by the May 8 announcement that the South32 Hermosa Mine project was accepted for permitting under Fast-41, given that the manganese-zinc deposit is located in the Patagonia Mountains of southern Arizona.
Carolyn Shafer, a board member of the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, agrees that the world should move away from fossil fuels but is concerned about the effects a mine at Hermosa might have on the environment and animals that depend on it.
Project proponents, however, argue that the Fast-41 process will add an extra layer of transparency for stakeholders.
"South32 hopes to set a new standard for sustainable mining at Hermosa, strengthening the domestic supply chain of critical minerals, growing the local economy, and improving lives in a community that needs more jobs and investment," said South32 Hermosa President Pat Risner.
"Becoming a covered Fast-41 project will make the rigorous federal environmental review and permitting process for this project more transparent, predictable, and inclusive for all stakeholders," he added. "We are committed to working closely with the U.S. Forest Service, cooperating agencies, Native American tribes, and local stakeholders in Santa Cruz County in Arizona to develop this project in a way that benefits the community, minimizes impact on the environment, and creates opportunities across the region."