The Biden administration moved closer to implementing a 20-year ban on mining in a South Dakota forest area due to its proximity to cultural and natural resources.
In a joint announcement Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service said they would consider a 20-year withdrawal of 20,574 acres located in the Black Hills National Forest near the Pactola Reservoir and Rapid Creek Watershed. The proposed action prohibits new mining claims and the issuance of new federal mineral leases for two years while the agencies review the proposal.
“Whether it’s northern Minnesota, southern Arizona, Alaska, or now South Dakota, these sorts of land restrictions from the anti-mining Biden Administration hamstring domestic development of minerals we need for national defense, energy technology, and everyday life,” Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Subcommittee, told Fox News Digital.
“We need to be using our resources we have here with our workforce, not taking them offline,” he continued.
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According to the announcement, the action could protect the drinking water supply for nearby Rapid City, South Dakota, and the Ellsworth Air Force Base, from the adverse impacts of mineral exploration and development.
The two agencies will officially publish the proposal on March 21, opening a 90-day public comment period during which stakeholders will be able to weigh in on the action. Under federal law, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is authorized to withdraw public lands from mining leasing for up to 20 years.
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“The BLM is pleased to work with the USDA Forest Service on this effort,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a statement. “This proposal will help protect a primary source of drinking water for South Dakotans as the Forest Service assesses a 20-year withdrawal.”
“We’re going to study the feasibility of withdrawing lands in the area, because any activity that might affect these critical resources deserves a thorough review,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore added.
The potential 20-year withdrawal comes amid a multi-year approval process for a gold exploration project in the area proposed by Minneapolis-based mining company F3 Gold. It also comes months after the Forest Service issued a draft decision allowing the company to explore across 3 acres and build some infrastructure under several restrictions after an extensive environmental review.
F3 Gold pledged that it wouldn’t extract water from the Rapid Creek Watershed and wouldn’t use any hazardous chemicals, adding that it would never “commence with any project” that poses risks to regional water sources. It also made a series of land use and ecological stewardship commitments.
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The company has stated that the so-called Jenny Gulch Exploration Drilling Project would produce precious metals necessary for green energy technology like solar panels and electric vehicle batteries, aerospace equipment and telecom equipment.
“Gold is everywhere,” the company states on its website. “Due to its versatile properties it is a vital component in technologies from nearly every economic sector in the U.S., making it strategic and critical to our future.”
In addition, several companies have expressed interest in conducting exploratory drilling in the area for lithium, another key component for electric vehicle batteries, and uranium which is vital for zero-emissions nuclear power. Copper and silver deposits have also been found in Black Hills.
“While we agree that renewable energy is key to fighting climate change, we do not think that the Black Hills are a good location for new large-scale mines,” the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, a local eco group, states on its website. “And mining is a major contributor to carbon emissions and climate change. The Black Hills are ecologically, culturally, and historically unique and are the treaty homelands of the Lakota people.”
“The current local economy, which is based on agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation, is far more prosperous than a mining-based economy and creates far less damage to the area’s land, wildlife, and water.”
On Friday, the BLM and Forest Service acknowledged in their announcement that “responsible development of domestic mineral supplies is important to transitioning to a clean energy economy,” but said it was also important to protect natural resources.
Overall, the U.S. produced about 170 metric tons of gold in 2022 despite its vast reserves of the precious metal, federal data showed. By comparison, China mined 330 metric tons of gold, exceeding production levels of every other country for the second consecutive year.
The International Energy Agency has repeatedly warned that aggressive green energy goals will only be met if nations shore up critical mineral supply chains. Green energy technologies like electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind turbines are dependent on lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel, graphite, zinc and precious metals like gold and silver.