Minerals Bill Would Boost American Competitiveness | Commentary

Posted October 9, 2013 at 3:58pm

The mood in Washington is especially trying as legislators confront a slew of difficult decisions, both foreign and domestic. However, there is an opportunity for Congress to stimulate job growth, spur economic activity, revive domestic manufacturing and assuage some of our security concerns.

How? By passing legislation to ensure that U.S. mineral and metals resources are no longer overlooked.

The House last month passed the bipartisan National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, which stands to allow for the more efficient development of the nation’s $6.2 trillion worth of minerals and metals. The production of our abundant reserves base could supply the raw materials our manufacturers desperately need, buttress our national security establishment and the requisite military equipment to do so, as well as ensure ready access to the resources that will help the United States pioneer advanced energy technologies.

Lest anyone should think otherwise, this bill would not in any way minimize or hinder the environmental review that is an important part of the permitting process.

To the contrary, the legislation encourages better interaction and coordination when multiple agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency, are involved in permitting.

As it stands, the multiple agencies conduct duplicative reviews separately, one at a time, without coordination. In order to achieve a more efficient process, the House bill requires the agencies to consider best practices, including conducting concurrent reviews. In other words, it asks the agencies to coordinate and work together on their National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

The 30-month deadline for an answer does not mandate approval. In fact, if both parties agree, the process can continue. The goal of the bill is to provide some predictability and transparency to an opaque, inefficient process and to serve as an impetus for the permitting agencies to improve the process.

With the world’s largest reserve base of key mineral resources, the United States could supply its industries with the resources they need. And we do need them. Cellphones, solar panels, night-vision goggles, construction equipment, high-speed microchips and hybrid vehicles — and an innumerable amount of other manufactured goods — require minerals such as gold, copper, iron ore, molybdenum and silver, all of which can be found right beneath our feet.

Yet much of our resources remain locked underground by an outdated and underperforming mining permitting system, plagued by unnecessary delays and redundancies at the local, state and federal levels.

As a result, mineral-rich communities across the nation are missing out on job growth and investment and forfeiting revenues at all levels.

Currently, it can take nearly a decade for companies to receive approval to mine for minerals in the United States — five times longer than it takes in countries with comparably stringent environmental safeguards, such as Canada and Australia. As a result, the United States is unable to supply domestic companies with even half of their mineral needs, leaving them completely import-reliant for 18 mineral commodities in a tight global supply market.

This dependence on foreign countries for minerals not only puts our supply chains at risk, but it also leaves job and economic growth opportunities off our shores.

By ensuring predictable and more efficient permitting without reducing any of the country’s stringent environmental protections, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 would enable states to attract the investment in mining that our nation has ignored for decades. It would help create much-needed jobs and provide reliable supplies of minerals for domestic innovators and manufacturers such as General Electric and Apple, which seek to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States after years abroad.

As millions of people join the middle class in fast-rising economies worldwide, the global demand for minerals will only continue to increase. If we ignore this new reality, the consequences for our nation’s global competitiveness will be severe, and America will become ever more reliant on mineral supplies from countries vulnerable to internal conflict and external forces.

On the other hand, if we allow U.S. mining to perform to its full potential, our nation can enjoy enormous growth and job-creation opportunities, help revive domestic manufacturing and attract additional global investment dollars. It would also help our military source the 750,000 tons of minerals required annually to maintain our national defense.

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013 will help make all of this a reality, which is why the Senate should join the House and enact a similar measure that promotes the responsible domestic mineral development we need to strengthen our economy, encourage more companies to bring operations home and keep the United States at the helm of global innovation.

Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association, which advocates on behalf of America’s mining and minerals resources.