Washington, D.C. – A mine permit process plagued by uncertainties, duplication and delays has become a major barrier to building a world class supply chain that is increasingly vital to American manufacturing and industrial innovation, a top mining executive told a Senate panel today.
Red Conger, president of Freeport-McMoRan Americas, warned that a growing structural mismatch between domestic mineral supply and demand is having far-reaching consequences that must be addressed by Congress. “The U.S. position as the world’s premier manufacturing nation could suffer if the U.S. mining industry is not allowed to perform to its full potential and supply more of the minerals needed to sustain growing manufacturing demand,” Conger said.
Today less than half of the mineral needs of U.S. manufacturers are met from domestically produced resources, Conger said. In fact, U.S. import dependence is increasing as global competitors are aggressively securing supplies of the world’s mineral resources.
Testifying at the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on behalf of the National Mining Association (NMA), the industry’s national trade group, NMA Chairman Conger explained the biggest obstacle holding back the industry is a notoriously inefficient permit process that takes anywhere from seven to 10 years for permit approval. The resulting delays hamper access to the nation’s abundant mineral resources, leading to a doubling of U.S. import dependence for key mineral commodities over the past two decades.
“Today, we are import dependent for 19 key mineral resources and more than 50 percent import dependent for an additional 24 mineral commodities,” NMA’s chairman said. This is despite an abundant endowment of copper, silver, zinc and other key mineral commodities with an estimated value of $6.2 trillion as well as world-class mining expertise using best practices.
Unless steps are taken to streamline the permit process as Canada, Australia and other mining countries have done, the U.S. economy will languish and its vital supply chains will be subject to increased risk of disruption, Conger said. Reform is urgently needed to the U.S. industry can capitalize on its mineral wealth to service powerful new demand for commodity minerals projected from a growing middle class in today’s developing countries.
Greater permit efficiency does not mean less environmental oversight. “Valid concerns about environmental protection should be fully considered and addressed,” Conger said. “At the same time, they should not serve as an excuse to trap mining projects in a limbo of duplicative, unpredictable and endless review without a decision point.”
Conger testified in support of S. 833, The American Mineral Security Act of 2015, a bill introduced by committee chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) designed to expedite the permitting process. “S. 833 is a step forward in bringing the U.S. in line with its global peers who are preparing to meet the 21st century challenges of mineral supply chain reliability and security,” Conger said.