Mining Industry in Idaho Seeks Shorter Permit Application Period

Feb 14, 2013

Mining has pumped billions of dollars into the Idaho economy. It’s one of the states considered by the industry to be the most mining-friendly.

Mining Industry leaders speaking to Idaho lawmakers on February 11, 2013.
Credit Aaron Kunz / EarthFix

But even here, the industry is frustrated that it can take years before permits are issued and work can get underway. That’s why mining officials are appealing to state lawmakers to help speed up the regulatory process. It’s a proposition that has environmentalists worried.

The concern, according to company officials, is how long it takes before they learn whether they’ll get the mining permits. They say the wait can be as long as 10 years.

Anne LaBelle of Midas Gold says that hurts the industry.

“What investors want is certainty,” she says. “Idaho is an extremely safe place to bring money. But our investors consistently ask us, what about permitting timelines?”

These investors want to know when they will start to see a return on their investment. That can’t happen until after a company starts extracting minerals like gold, silver or phosphate. Idaho’s mining companies supply raw materials that end up in a wide variety of products — from computer parts to fertilizers.

If permits are strict or rarely issued. Investors might not fund exploration efforts.

Jack Lyman with the Idaho Mining Association says the industry wants state lawmakers to support efforts to speed up the permitting process. “I think it’s that constant pressure we need to put on that federal government to make timely decisions” says Lyman. “I’m not saying they have to say yes, I’m just saying they have to give us a decision in a timely manner.”

John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League says that wait time is important. Federal regulators use that time to carefully study each permit application. That attention to detail prevents potential problems.

“When you streamline or take shortcuts through this permitting process. You’re at risk of threatening clean water, wildlife and public health with toxic mining waste,” Robison says.

This was a chance for state lawmakers to hear from industry leaders. Now its up to them whether they’ll try to ease the permitting process on state lands. But more than half of Idaho land is federally managed, which means state lawmakers’ ability to intervene is limited.