As global demand for minerals increases — driven by rising population, urbanization and more modern-day gadgets and electronics — to be “Made in America” will increasingly require more minerals be mined in America.
Yet the U.S. has one of the longest permitting processes in the world for mining projects.
An inefficient and duplicative permitting system for mines that produce the essential minerals for basic industries, technology, national defense and other products made in the U.S.A. threatens American manufacturing. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets Tuesday to open debate on a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to fix that, and to ensure America’s domestic mining policy doesn’t hinder the nation’s progress and future promise.
There have been many executive orders and legislative policies directed at providing a more efficient and accountable regulatory framework for manufacturing, infrastructure and energy. However, they often omit the mining sector which supplies the resources necessary for these industries to succeed.
Take for instance President Barack Obama’s call for the U.S. to develop advanced energy technologies that will lead the world — from cutting-edge car batteries to wind turbines and solar panels. Those breakthroughs require breaking ground and mining the minerals needed to produce them. And as the House debates a $500 billion spending bill for the Defense Department on the floor this week, and the Senate considers defense spending in committee, there will be little discussion on whether our troops should get equipment made from minerals mined here, even though they are required to wear American-made uniforms.
The Senate panel will hear testimony from Red Conger, president of Freeport-McMoRan Americas and chairman of the National Mining Association, the national trade association representing the producers of most of the nation’s coal, metals, industrial and agricultural minerals. Copper and molybdenum mines that Conger operates in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico allow Americans to drive safer cars on better roads and bridges, use laptops and smartphones and generally enjoy a high quality of life.
But the fact is Conger’s experience is the exception, not the norm. Less than half of the mineral needs of U.S. manufacturing are met from domestically mined resources even though, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, what minerals are left to be discovered in the U.S. are almost as much as what has already been found.
Our growing dependence on imports leave many key domestic industries vulnerable to disruptions.
Murkowski’s bill would streamline the process by encouraging early coordination and removing duplication, while still allowing valid concerns about environmental protection to be fully considered. No one should confuse the length of the process with the rigor of review.
But one thing is clear: It’s the length of the process that’s preventing America from unlocking its full mineral potential. The American Mineral Security Act of 2015 would tap it.
Hal Quinn is the president and CEO of The National Mining Association.