Efforts to support domestic manufacturing and U.S. infrastructure are hot topics for both U.S. voters and policymakers. According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the National Mining Association, 71 percent of voters support using domestically-sourced minerals for infrastructure and manufacturing projects. Unfortunately, the U.S. mine permitting process is creating unnecessary hurdles for timely access to domestic minerals.
In fact, a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that we are woefully unprepared to meet the rising demand for minerals in the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors. The problem is not a lack of domestic resources. The U.S. possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves. But according to USGS’ 2017 Mineral Commodity Summaries, America is import-dependent for half or all of 50 key mineral commodities.
The problem is that regulatory policies governing minerals mining are now so obstructive that they almost guarantee mining investment goes elsewhere. For example, gaining the necessary approvals to open a new U.S. mine now takes on average seven to 10 years. By comparison, the mine permitting process in Canada and Australia—nations with similar environmental standards—takes just two to three years.
To add insult to injury, a recent report from the S&P Global Market Intelligence shows that U.S. mineral exploration is declining — with a more than 30 percent exploration budget decrease last year. That reality, paired with mining policies that put U.S. minerals mining at a competitive disadvantage, has resulted in this alarming increase of U.S. mineral import reliance.
This month, however, hearings in the House and Senate focused on this increased mineral dependence and looked at opportunities to improve the U.S. supply chain. The president has already signaled an interest in using American-made materials to rebuild or expand our roads, airports, railroads and pipelines. Spending billions overseas on zinc, iron ore and copper, wouldn’t fit that American-made goal. But our mines can meet this need if we reform our regulatory policies.
Fortunately, legislation recently introduced in the Senate by Dean Heller, R-Nev., and in the House of Representatives by Mark Amodei, R-Nev., provides some commonsense reforms for the mine permitting process that will reduce duplication and improve efficiencies without weakening environmental safeguards. The time is now to refocus on our minerals mining policies to rebuild America.