Source: National Research Council
Coal mine disasters in the United States are relatively rare events; many of the roughly 50,000 miners underground will never have to evacuate a mine in an emergency during their careers. However, for those that do, the consequences have the potential to be devastating. U.S. mine safety practices have received increased attention in recent years because of the highly publicized coal mine disasters in 2006 and 2010. Investigations have centered on understanding both how to prevent or mitigate emergencies and what capabilities are needed by miners to self-escape to a place of safety successfully. This report focuses on the latter – the preparations for self-escape.
In the wake of 2006 disasters, the U.S. Congress passed the Mine Improvement
and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act), which was designed to strengthen existing mine safety regulations and set forth new measures aimed at improving accident preparedness and emergency response in underground coal mines. Since that time, the efforts of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have contributed to safety improvements in the mining industry. However, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 served as a reminder to remain ever vigilant on improving the prevention of mine disasters and preparations to help miners survive in the event of emergencies.
This study was set in the context of human-systems integration (HSI), a systems approach that examines the interaction of people, tasks, and equipment and technology in the pursuit of a goal. It recognizes this interaction occurs within, and is influenced by, the broader environmental context. A key premise of human-systems integration is that much important information is lost when the various tasks within a system are considered individually or in isolation rather than in interaction with the whole system. Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines, the task of self-escape is part of the mine safety system.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS): A Primer (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Carbon capture and sequestration (or storage)—known as CCS—has attracted congressional interest as a measure for mitigating global climate change because large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from fossil fuel use in the United States are potentially available to be captured and stored underground and prevented from reaching the atmosphere. Large, industrial sources of CO2, such as electricity-generating plants, are likely initial candidates for CCS because they are predominantly stationary, single-point sources. Electricity generation contributes over 40% of U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. Currently, U.S. power plants do not capture large volumes of CO2 for CCS.
Several projects in the United States and abroad—typically associated with oil and gas production—are successfully capturing, injecting, and storing CO2 underground, albeit at relatively small scales. The oil and gas industry in the United States injects nearly 50 million tons of CO2 underground each year for the purpose of enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The volume of CO2 envisioned for CCS as a climate mitigation option is overwhelming compared to the amount of CO2 used for EOR. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the United States has the potential to store billions of tons of CO2 underground and keep the gas trapped there indefinitely. Capturing and storing the equivalent of decades or even centuries of CO2 emissions from power plants (at current levels of emissions) suggests that CCS has the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions substantially while allowing the continued use of fossil fuels.
An integrated CCS system would include three main steps: (1) capturing and separating CO2 from other gases; (2) purifying, compressing, and transporting the captured CO2 to the sequestration site; and (3) injecting the CO2 in subsurface geological reservoirs or storing it in the oceans. Deploying CCS technology on a commercial scale would be a vast undertaking. The CCS process, although simple in concept, would require significant investments of capital and of time. Capital investment would be required for the technology to capture CO2 and for the pipeline network to transport the captured CO2 to the disposal site. Time would be required to assess the potential CO2 storage reservoir, inject the captured CO2, and monitor the injected plume to ensure against leaks to the atmosphere or to underground sources of drinking water, potentially for years or decades until injection activities cease and the injected plume stabilizes.
Three main types of geological formations in the United States are being considered for storing large amounts of CO2: oil and gas reservoirs, deep saline reservoirs, and unmineable coal seams. The deep ocean also has a huge potential to store carbon; however, direct injection of CO2 into the deep ocean is controversial, and environmental concerns have forestalled planned experiments in the open ocean. Mineral carbonation—reacting minerals with a stream of concentrated CO2 to form a solid carbonate—is well understood, but it is still an experimental process for storing large quantities of CO2.
Large-scale CCS injection experiments are only beginning in the United States to test how different types of reservoirs perform during CO2 injection of a million tons of CO2 or more. Results from the experiments will undoubtedly be crucial to future permitting and site approval regulations. Acceptance by the general public of large-scale deployment of CCS may be a significant challenge. Some of the large-scale injection tests could garner information about public acceptance, as citizens become familiar with the concept, process, and results of CO2 injection tests in their local communities.
New GAO Reports, Testimony, Press Release
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Information Technology Reform: Progress Made; More Needs to Be Done to Complete Actions and Measure Results. GAO-12-461, April 26.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/590458.pdf
Podcast – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/591012
3. Information Technology: HUD’s Fiscal Year 2011 Expenditure Plan Satisfies Statutory Conditions. GAO-12-654, May 24.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/591106.pdf
4. Bureau of the Public Debt: Areas for Improvement in Information Systems Controls. GAO-12-616R, May 24.
1. Information Technology Reform: Progress Made; More Needs to Be Done to Complete Actions and Measure Results, by David A. Powner, director, information technology management issues, before the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-12-745T, May 24.
+ Press Release
1. Appointments Announced to Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, May 24.
Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)
Mountaintop removal mining involves removing the top of a mountain in order to recover the coal seams contained there. This practice occurs in six Appalachian states (Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Ohio). It creates an immense quantity of excess spoil (dirt and rock that previously composed the mountaintop), which is typically placed in valley fills on the sides of the former mountains, burying streams that flow through the valleys. Mountaintop mining is regulated under several laws, including the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
Critics say that, as a result of valley fills from mountaintop mining, stream water quality and the aquatic and wildlife habitat that streams support are destroyed by tons of rocks and dirt. The mining industry argues that mountaintop mining is essential to conducting surface coal mining in the Appalachian region and that it would not be economically feasible there if operators were barred from using valleys for the disposal of mining overburden. Critics have used litigation to challenge the practice. In a number of cases discussed in this report, environmental groups have been successful at the federal district court level in challenging issuance of permits for mountaintop mining projects, but each has been later overturned on appeal. Nonetheless, the criticisms also have prompted some regulatory changes, also discussed here.
In June 2009, officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the Department of the Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining a series of administrative actions under these laws to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of mountaintop mining and surface coal mining in Appalachia. The plan includes a series of near-term and longer-term actions that emphasize specific steps, improved coordination, and greater transparency of decisions. The actions are being implemented through regulatory proposals, guidance documents, and review of applications for permits to authorize surface coal mining operations in Appalachia. Viewed broadly, the Administration’s combined actions on mountaintop mining displease both industry and environmental advocates. The additional scrutiny of permits and more stringent requirements have angered the coal industry and many of its supporters. Controversy also was generated by EPA’s January 2011 veto of a CWA permit that had been issued by the Corps for a surface coal mining project in West Virginia. At the same time, while environmental groups support EPA’s steps to restrict the practice, many favor tougher requirements or even total rejection of mountaintop mining in Appalachia. Federal courts have recently rejected some of the Administration’s actions, including overturning EPA’s veto of the West Virginia mine permit. This report provides background on regulatory requirements, controversies and legal challenges to mountaintop mining, and recent Administration actions.
Congressional interest in these issues also is discussed, including legislation in the 111th Congress seeking to restrict the practice of mountaintop mining and other legislation intended to block the Obama Administration’s regulatory actions. Attention to EPA’s veto of the West Virginia mining permit and other federal agency actions has increased in the 112 th Congress. Several bills have been introduced to clarify or restrict EPA’s authority to veto CWA permits issued by the Corps (H.R. 457/S. 272; H.R. 517; H.R. 960/S. 468; and H.R. 2018, which the House passed in July 2011).
CRS — China’s Rare Earth Industry and Export Regime: Economic and Trade Implications for the United States
China’s Rare Earth Industry and Export Regime: Economic and Trade Implications for the United States (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Over the past few years, the Chinese government has implemented a number of policies to tighten its control over the production and export of “rare earths”–a unique group of 17 metal elements on the periodic table that exhibit a range of special properties, such as magnetism, luminescence, and strength. Rare earths are important to a number of high technology industries, including renewable energy and various defense systems.
China’s position as the world’s dominant producer and supplier of rare earths (97% of total output) and its policies to limit exports have raised concerns among many in Congress, especially given the importance of rare earths to a variety of U.S. commercial industries (e.g., hybrid and conventional autos, oil and gas, energy-efficient lighting, advanced electronics, chemicals, and medical equipment), as well as to U.S. defense industries that produce various weapon systems. Many are concerned that rising rare earth prices could undermine the global competitiveness of many U.S. firms (lowering their production and employment), impede technological innovation, and raise prices for U.S. consumers. Others are concerned that China’s virtual monopoly over rare earths could be used as leverage against major rare earth importers, such as the United States, Japan, and the European Union (EU).
To many observers, China’s rare earth policies are part of a complex web of Chinese government industrial policies that seek to promote the development of domestic industries deemed essential to economic modernization. In the late 1980s, the United States was the global leader in rare earth production. However, preferential policies by the Chinese government and lax environmental standards there quickly enabled China to become a dominant, low-cost producer of rare earths by the late 1990s. Many analysts contend that China’s recent actions to consolidate its rare earth production and restrict exports are intended to promote the development of domestic downstream industries, especially those engaged in high technology and green technology industries, by ensuring their access to adequate and low-cost supplies of rare earths. It is further argued that China’s rare earth export policies are intended to induce foreign rare earth users to move their operations to China, and subsequently, to transfer technology to Chinese firms. China denies that its rare earth policies are political, discriminatory, or protectionist, but rather, are intended to address environmental concerns in China and to better manage and conserve limited resources.
On March 13, 2012, the United States, Japan, and the EU jointly initiated a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement case against China’s restrictive policies on rare earths and two other minerals. This case was brought shortly after the United States largely prevailed in a similar WTO case brought against China over its export restrictions on nine raw materials. The Obama Administration has also sought to devise strategies to deal with rare earth shortages, including the development of a diversified global rare earth supply chain, the development of alternative materials, and more efficient use of rare earth, including recycling. A number of bills have been introduced in Congress that seek to address U.S. rare earths shortages. A major issue for Congress raised by the rare earths dispute is whether U.S. trade policy can effectively respond to China’s industrial policies that may negatively impact U.S. economic interests, either through the WTO or other means.
This report examines the economic and trade implications of China’s rare earth policies for the United States.
CRS — Rare Earth Elements in National Defense: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress
Some Members of Congress have expressed concern over U.S. acquisition of rare earth materials composed of rare earth elements used in various components of defense weapon systems. Rare earth elements consist of 17 elements on the periodic table, including 15 elements beginning with atomic number 57 (lanthanum) and extending through number 71 (lutetium), as well as two other elements having similar properties (yttrium and scandium). These are referred to as “rare” because although relatively abundant in total quantity, they appear in low concentrations in the earth’s crust and extraction and processing is both difficult and costly.From the 1960s to the 1980s, the United States was the leader in global rare earth production. Since then, production has shifted almost entirely to China, in part due to lower labor costs and lower environmental standards. China now produces about 97% of rare earth oxides, is the only exporter of commercial quantities of rare earth refined metals, and is the majority producer of the world’s two strongest magnets (samarium cobalt (SmCo) and neodymium iron boron (NeFeB) permanent rare earth magnets). An underinvestment in the U.S. supply chain for rare earths has resulted in a situation where, with few exceptions, there is a lack of domestic refining, fabricating, metal-making, alloying, and magnet manufacturing capacity to process rare earths.In 2010, a series of events and press reports highlighted what some referred to as the rare earth “crisis.” Some policymakers were concerned that China had cut its rare earth exports and appeared to be restricting the world’s access to rare earths, with a nearly total U.S. dependence on China for rare earth elements, including oxides, phosphors, metals, alloys, and magnets. Additionally, some policymakers had expressed growing concern that the United States had lost its domestic capacity to produce strategic and critical materials, and its implications for U.S. national security.Pursuant to Section 843, the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011 (P.L. 111-383) and S.Rept. 111-201(accompanying S. 3454), Congress had mandated that the Secretary of Defense conduct an assessment of rare earth supply chain issues and develop a plan to address any vulnerabilities. DOD was required to assess which rare earths met the following criteria: (1) the rare earth materials was critical to the production, sustainment, or operation of significant U.S. military equipment, and (2) the rare earth material was subject to interruption of supply, based on actions or events outside the control of the U.S. government. The 7-page report was issued in March 2012.On March 13, 2012, President Obama announced that the United States had joined with Japan and the European Union to bring a World Trade Organization (WTO) joint dispute resolution case against China because of China’s restrictive policies on rare earths and other minerals.Given DOD’s assessment of the supply and demand for rare earths for defense purposes, coupled with the recent announcement of Molycorp’s proposed acquisition of Neo Material Technologies, Congress may use its oversight role to seek more complete answers to the following important questions:
• Given Molycorps’ purchase of Neo Material Technologies and the potential for the migration of domestic rare earth minerals to Molycorp’s processing facilities in China, how will this move effect the domestic supply of rare earth minerals for the production of U.S. defense weapon systems?• Given that DOD’s assessment of future supply and demand was based on previous estimates using 2010 data, could there be concern for a possible rare earth material supply shortage or vulnerability that could affect national security?• Are there substitutes for rare earth materials that are economic, efficient, and available?• Does dependence on foreign sources alone for rare earths pose a national security problem?
Congress may encourage DOD to develop a collaborative, long-term, well-thought-out strategy designed to identify any material weaknesses and vulnerabilities associated with rare earths and to protect long-term U.S. national security interests.
More than 270,000 Jobs Potentially at Risk from Mining Rule Says ENVIRON
Source: National Mining Association
ENVIRON International Corporation (ENVIRON) today completed an analysis on behalf of the National Mining Association (NMA) of the anticipated economic impacts associated with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSM) proposed rewrite of the Stream Buffer Zone Rule (the Stream Protection Rule) and other provisions of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The key findings of the analysis are as follows:
- Between 133,441 and 273,227 coal mining-related jobs are risk, with the Appalachian region alone losing as many as 220,003 jobs;
- Direct mining jobs at risk are predicted to be between 55,120 and 79,870;
- Both surface and underground coal mines will be affected, with an overall decrease of 30.4 percent to 41.5 percent in recovery of demonstrated coal reserves; and
- The annual value of coal lost to production restrictions is projected to be between $14 billion and $20 billion, with $4 billion to $5 billion foregone in annual federal and state tax revenues.
+ Full Report (PDF)
MSHA releases preliminary fatality data for 2011
Source: Mine Safety and Health Administration (USDoL)
Preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration released today reveal that 37 miners died in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines in 2011. There were 21 coal mining and 16 metal/nonmetal mining fatalities last year, compared with 48 and 23, respectively, in 2010, making 2011 the year with the second-lowest number of mining deaths since statistics were first recorded in 1910.
Of the 37 fatalities reported, 12 occurred at surface coal mines, 11 at surface metal/nonmetal mines, nine at underground coal mines and five at underground metal/nonmetal mines. Nine workers died in accidents involving machinery — six in coal mines and three in metal/nonmetal mines — making it the leading cause of fatal mining accidents.
Kentucky had the most mining deaths — eight — in 2011, followed by West Virginia with six and Ohio with three. All but one of those deaths occurred in coal mines. Several of the larger coal-producing states, including Alabama, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Utah, experienced zero mine fatalities last year.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Hardrock Mining: BLM Needs to Revise Its Systems for Assessing the Adequacy of Financial Assurances. GAO-12-189R, December 12.
2. Commercial Spectrum: Plans and Actions to Meet Future Needs, Including Continued Use of Auctions. GAO-12-118, November 23.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/587323.pdf
Links Between Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts, Tort Cases Examined
Source: RAND Corporation
A new study by the RAND Corporation explores the way that asbestos bankruptcy trusts -— created to compensate people injured by the mineral -— may be influencing tort cases.
The study finds that the current way that the trusts and the tort cases are linked together may result in payments that are not consistent with the basic principles of the tort liability system.
Researchers say that, in some cases, the trusts may allow some plaintiffs to receive more compensation than if all of the companies involved in asbestos litigation had remained financially solvent. In addition, the study finds that payments by defendants that remain solvent might not be fully adjusted to account for the payments available from the trusts.
“Asbestos-related litigation is expected to continue for some time,” said Lloyd Dixon, lead author of the study and a senior economist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Both plaintiffs and the defendants that remain solvent have a great deal at stake with regard to how payments from trusts enter into the determination of injury awards.”
Asbestos litigation in the United States began in the 1970s and grew rapidly. As payments for injuries mounted, many of the primary asbestos defendants declared bankruptcy, leaving behind personal injury trusts that pay future asbestos claims. During the past three decades, 56 asbestos personal injury trusts have been established; the largest 26 of these paid $10.9 billion to settle 2.4 million claims through 2008.
Over the past 10 years, payments by the asbestos bankruptcy trusts have played an increasing role in compensation for asbestos injuries, but there is no standard system to coordinate payments from trusts and lawsuits. The RAND study examines how the asbestos trusts may influence the tort case and how trust payments may be factored into tort awards in different states.
Q&A Rare earth metals
Neodymium. Lanthanum. Dysprosium. Rare earth elements (REEs) such as these may not sound familiar now but they soon could be. These metals are increasingly being used in everyday components that are vital to the green economy – everything from parts in wind turbines, batteries in electric and hybrid vehicles to energy efficient lighting. Based on increasing demand for these high-tech and environmentally-friendly products, the majority of the rare or obscure group of metals may likely outstrip supply in the short term, at least through 2015. Short-term supply shortages are producing several challenges to producers and consumers of these metals.
The purpose of this Q&A briefing is two-fold: to highlight this class of metals and their importance to an ever increasing array of consumer and industrial products, and, to identify the challenges likely to be faced by rare earth metal explorers and developers in the next three to five years and possible solutions to these challenges.
+ Full Report (PDF)
Deep-sea mud in the Paciﬁc Ocean as a potential resource for rare-earth elements (PDF)
Source: Nature Geoscience
World demand for rare-earth elements and the metal yttrium—which are crucial for novel electronic equipment and green-energy technologies—is increasing rapidly. Several types of seaﬂoor sediment harbour high concentrations of these elements. However, seaﬂoor sediments have not been regarded as a rare-earth element and yttrium resource, because data on the spatial distribution of these deposits are insufﬁcient. Here, we report measurements of the elemental composition of over 2,000 seaﬂoor sediments, sampled at depth intervals of around one metre, at 78 sites that cover a large part of the Paciﬁc Ocean. We show that deep-sea mud contains high concentrations of rare-earth elements and yttrium at numerous sites throughout the eastern South and central North Paciﬁc. We estimate that an area of just one square kilometre, surrounding one of the sampling sites, could provide one-ﬁfth of the current annual world consumption of these elements. Uptake of rare-earth elements and yttrium by mineral phases such as hydrothermal iron-oxyhydroxides and phillipsite seems to be responsible for their high concentration. We show that rare-earth elements and yttrium are readily recovered from the mud by simple acid leaching, and suggest that deep-sea mud constitutes a highly promising huge resource for these elements
Transportation Fatalities in the Mining Sector: 2004—2008
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Transportation accidents are the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the mining industry. The younger the worker is, the greater the likelihood of the worker becoming a victim of these types of fatalities. A substantial portion of transportation fatalities result from jackknifed and overturned vehicle accidents. This study identifies some of the factors associated with these high fatality rates.
Productivity and Costs by Industry: Selected Service-Providing and Mining Industries, 2009
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Labor productivity — defined as output per hour — rose in 44 percent of the 52 detailed service- providing and mining industries studied in 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This was down from 56 percent in 2008 and from 65 percent in 2007. Unit labor costs, which reflect the total labor costs required to produce a unit of output, declined in 33 percent of the industries in 2009, compared to 31 percent in 2008.
Output and hours also rose in fewer industries in 2009 than in the previous two years. Output rose in only 6 of the 52 service-providing and mining industries in 2009, while hours increased in 7. (See table 1.) In over one quarter of the industries studied, output and hours both declined at double- digit rates.
When Engaging with Your Stakeholders Is Worth Its Weight in Gold
Source: Knowledge@Wharton (University of Pennsylvania)
Wharton management professor Witold Henisz has been studying political and social risk management for 15 years, focusing mainly on strategies of avoidance — i.e., better identification of risky places to do business, and then helping companies minimize their exposure to them. Recently, he discovered a way to distinguish the payoff in “engag[ing] with these risky environments. What strategies did firms that decided to enter these markets follow? Why did some succeed and others fail?”
The result is a research paper titled “Spinning Gold: The Financial Returns to External Stakeholder Engagement,” by Henisz and Sinziana Dorobantu, a senior research fellow and lecturer at Wharton, and Lite Nartey, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina.
The authors used data from 26 gold mines owned by 19 publicly traded firms between 1993 and 2008. By coding more than 50,000 “stakeholder events” found in media reports, Henisz and his colleagues developed an index of the degree of stakeholder cooperation or conflict for these mines.
The term “stakeholders” in this context, says Henisz, includes everyone from local and national politicians and community leaders to priests, war lords, paramilitary groups, NGOs and international bodies like the World Bank. The term “stakeholder event” includes reported actions or expressions of sentiment from these groups that indicate cooperation with the mine owners, as well conflict with them. “At one extreme would be militia attacks on mines in the Congo. The other extreme would be groups in the Congo organizing to defend a mine from such an attack,” Henisz notes. Other events are far less extreme, such as peaceful protests by community leaders or demonstrations by environmental NGOs like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Federation. The mines are so big, Henisz adds, that “whoever the politically relevant stakeholders in an area are, they often take sides because so much money and so many jobs are at stake.”
+ Full Paper (PDF)
New GAO Report and Testimonies (PDFs)
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Disadvantaged Students: School Districts Have Used Title I Funds Primarily to Support Instruction. GAO-11-595, July 15.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11595high.pdf
1. Homeland Security: DHS Could Strengthen Acquisitions and Development of New Technologies, by David C. Maurer, director, homeland security and justice issues, before the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, House Committee on Homeland Security. GAO-11-829T, July 15.
2. Abandoned Mines: Information on the Number of Hardrock Mines, Cost of Cleanup, and Value of Financial Assurances, by Anu K. Mittal, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, House Committee on Natural Resources. GAO-11-834T, July 14.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11834thigh.pdf
+ Presentation By The Comptroller General
1. ”Meeting the Fiscal and Management Challenges Facing Government,” by Gene L. Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States, before the Association of Government Accountants’ professional development conference, in Atlanta, Georgia. GAO-11-815CG, July 11, 2011
Mongolia: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Mongolia is a sparsely populated young democracy in a remote part of Asia, sandwiched between two powerful large neighbors, China and Russia. It made its transition to democracy peacefully in 1990, after nearly 70 years as a Soviet satellite state. Congress has shown a strong interest in Mongolia’s development since, through the funding of assistance programs, ratification of a bilateral investment treaty, legislation to extend permanent normal trade relations, and passage of six resolutions commending Mongolia’s progress and supporting strong U.S.-Mongolia relations. Mongolia’s president, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, is scheduled to visit the White House and Capitol Hill on June 16, 2011.
Congressional interest is Mongolia has been strong in large part because of the country’s story of democratic development. Since passing a democratic constitution in 1992, Mongolia has held five direct presidential elections and five direct parliamentary elections. The State Department credits Mongolia’s current government with “generally respect[ing]” freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Mongolia’s democracy has sometimes been chaotic, however, and the 2008 parliamentary election was marred by violence that claimed five lives. Corruption is a mounting concern for many observers.
On the economic front, a mining boom is predicted to make Mongolia’s economy the fastest growing in the world by 2013. (The World Bank’s annual GDP growth rate projection for Mongolia in 2013 is 22.9%.) Mongolia’s mineral wealth, including significant reserves of coal, copper, gold, and uranium, offers investment opportunities for American companies. The U.S. Embassy in Mongolia has, however, raised concerns about Mongolia’s investment climate, which it sees as non-transparent, unpredictable, and potentially “expropriatory.” The United States and Mongolia are negotiating a transparency agreement that could address some U.S. concerns.
To balance the influence of its two large neighbors, China and Russia, Mongolia has embraced an active foreign policy designed to raise its international profile and win it the support of friends far from its borders. It was among the first nations to join the coalition for the Iraq War, deploying troops in Iraq from 2003 to 2008. Its troops have been deployed in Afghanistan since 2003.
Mongolia is an active participant in many international organizations, in which it often supports U.S. positions. In 1992, Mongolia declared itself a single-state nuclear-weapons-free zone; establishing the zone in international law has been a major goal of Mongolia’s foreign policy. China has emerged as Mongolia’s largest trading partner and foreign investor, although each country remains wary of the other. Russia is Mongolia’s largest source of energy products, and is cooperating with Mongolia in development of Mongolia’s uranium reserves. To ensure its continued independence and sovereignty, Mongolia has also prioritized the development of relations with so-called “third neighbors,” countries that do not border Mongolia, but have close ties to Mongolia. That list includes the United States, Japan, Korea, Germany, and India.
This report is divided into three main sections. The first discusses Mongolia’s democratic development. The second discusses economic issues, and the third discusses Mongolia’s engagement with the world. Appendix A lists major legislation related to Mongolia from the 102nd Congress to the present. Appendix B lists the outcomes of Mongolia’s five direct presidential elections and five direct parliamentary elections to date. The report also includes a map of Mongolia showing major railways and the location of significant mineral deposits.