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Don't Pass Me By - With Many Steps Required, Mining Projects Face Trickiest Path to Approval

When it comes to large-scale energy and infrastructure projects, permitting can sometimes look like a game of Whack-a-Mole, where efforts to conclude the process are continually frustrated by issues that appear (and then sometimes reappear again and again), encompassing everything from environmental reviews and the vagaries of different federal agencies to legal challenges and public (and political) opposition. But if the difficulties in building a new pipeline, transmission line, or solar farm seem immense, they pale in comparison to what developers of mining projects can face. In today’s RBN blog, we look at why mining projects take so long to develop, the unique challenges of the permitting process, and some ways that it might be improved.

As we outlined in Part 1 of this series, permitting for large-scale infrastructure projects can be a complicated, drawn-out process that is often easier said than done. The permitting process can drag on for years — such as with Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the poster child for today’s permitting challenges — and prevent some from ever becoming a reality. As an example of how long the process can take, we looked in Part 2 at the TransWest Express Transmission Project, which will move 3,000 megawatts (MW) of Wyoming’s wind-generated electricity to utilities in more densely populated regions of the Desert Southwest. Even though it’s a straightforward idea, the project didn’t receive final federal approval until April — 18 years after it was first proposed — and serves as a prime example of how long the permitting process can take. New transmission lines are critically important for the development of wind- and solar-powered generation, which are increasingly running into more permitting issues at the local level as they grow in scale and move closer to populated areas, a topic we discussed in Part 3.

If the challenges of building new infrastructure seem significant, mining developments can be a whole other story. There are various permits, approvals and consultations required in any mining project — which can vary by the type of activity and location — and developers have to work with any number of federal, state and local agencies, plus tribal authorities in some instances. On top of all that, mining projects have also faced increasing political headwinds in recent years. (More on that in a bit.) In a nutshell, nearly every hurdle faced by an energy-related project is one that a mining development might have to clear at some point in the process.

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