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Annual US defense bill bets on mining, climate while ditching energy fights

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Annual US defense bill bets on mining, climate while ditching energy fights

House and Senate lawmakers revealed a compromise version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, including requests for the U.S. military to study the feasibility of seawater mining and conduct a sweeping analysis of its climate impacts.

The bill, also known as the NDAA, would direct the U.S. Defense Department to begin studying the viability of mining critical minerals at sea if enacted. The Pentagon would be required to submit a report on the study to Congress within one year, effectively providing for the military to continue a policy under President-elect Joe Biden that classifies the domestic supplies of certain minerals such as uranium, graphite and lithium as vital to national security.

Lawmakers specified in an explanatory statement that the Pentagon should include a review of offshore uranium mining in the study, asserting the material is "critical to the defense industrial base of the United States." This came just days after the U.S. Energy Department announced it would permit producers of critical minerals to apply for loans under two clean energy programs. The bill text and explanatory statement were filed with the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 3.

The measure would also ask the Pentagon to determine how the Defense Production Act could be used to boost domestic aluminum refining and improve national aluminum processing and manufacturing capacity.

On the oil and natural gas front, the proposed legislation would establish the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research, comprising representatives from various federal agencies and the military divisions. The committee would work with the federal government, industry and universities on a "comprehensive program of oil pollution research, technology development, and demonstration," according to the bill. It would separately direct the military to produce a report on the economics and feasibility of using liquefied natural gas to power Coast Guard vessels.

The military would also be required to update its "2014 Adaptation Roadmap" by Feb. 1, 2022. The update would detail the department's plan to "address the current and foreseeable effects of extreme weather and sea level fluctuations on the mission of the Department of Defense," including potential climate-induced geopolitical instability, according to the proposal.

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The department would also have to issue a report to Congress outlining annual greenhouse gas emissions from the last decade, broken down by military department, within six months of the bill's passage.

The legislation would require a report detailing the vulnerability of U.S. Coast Guard facilities to climate change over the next two decades. That report would include the top 10 most vulnerable installations to rising sea levels, flooding, drought and wildfires, among other things.

Aside from the critical minerals proposals, the conference report excluded other key energy provisions.

The legislation did not contain the text of the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, or NELA, a bipartisan bill designed to boost innovation in advanced nuclear power. Provisions of the NELA were included in the Senate's NDAA bill but did not make it into the final conference report.

The NELA would establish a nationwide strategy for nuclear science and engineering research and development and provide for at least two advanced nuclear reactor demonstration projects to be completed by the end of 2025. The nuclear bill would also allow the federal government to enter into power purchase agreements of up to 40 years to better accommodate necessary return-on-investment timelines for nuclear projects, among other measures.

The Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, or USE IT Act, that had been included in the Senate's NDAA bill was also left out of the conference report. The USE IT Act would require the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to research direct air capture of carbon dioxide emissions.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the measure over concerns about technology policy and some policies maintaining imagery on military bases related to the U.S. Civil War. It is unclear if his opposition will result in the bill failing.