For most Americans, national security isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about mining. But national security – specifically supply chain security and energy security – is front and center for the nation’s mining industry.
Supply chain security refers to ensuring we have the domestic capacity to produce the minerals and metals used in military hardware. For example, copper is critical to the production of jets, tanks and warships. Beryllium is used to enhance the speed of aircraft and is essential to surveillance technology. Rare earth minerals are critical to the production of night-vision goggles. While domestic mining operations provide some of the 750,000 tons of minerals and metals used by the Department of Defense each year, a growing percentage of that supply must be imported, and it’s often sourced from unstable nations or geopolitical rivals.
As the U.S. Geological Survey reports, the U.S. is more than 50 percent import reliant for 50 minerals and 100 percent import-reliant for 21 of them. This heavy import dependence is a vulnerability of our own making.
The U.S. is home to mineral reserves valued at an estimated $6.2 trillion, but a cumbersome and redundant mine-permitting process has made it exceedingly difficult for U.S. miners to compete in the global marketplace. For example, it can take a decade or more to gain the necessary permits to open a new mine in the U.S. when it takes just two to three years in Australia or Canada, nations with comparable environmental safeguards.
It’s past time to bring common sense reform to our mine permitting process to ensure we have the domestic supply chain needed to provide our Armed Forces with the materials they need when they need them. Fortunately, some in Congress are taking action. The House passed an amendment – proposed by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) – that would streamline mine permitting. The amendment is part of the National Defense Authorization Act which is now heading to conference. The opportunity to reverse years of growing import-dependence on the minerals and metals that are so critical to our defense is within reach.
Just as we pull tantalizingly close to decisive action to strengthen our military supply chain, the Trump administration continues to sound the alarm over threats to the nation’s grid reliability from the loss of baseload power.
Our coal industry is the cornerstone of the nation’s energy security, but it can only serve that role if we craft energy policy that appropriately values the reliability provided by coal generation. Since 2010, utilities have retired, or scheduled to retire, more 100,000 GW of coal-based generating capacity – enough to power more than 60 million homes. The loss of so much well-operating baseload capacity, so fast, is pushing our grid to the limit.
The strength of the U.S. electrical grid has long been its fuel diversity. That diversity is rapidly eroding, and we are trading proven, secure energy sources for less reliable alternatives. We are approaching a reliability and resiliency crisis point of no return.
The U.S. has the world’s largest coal reserves and an existing coal fleet that can still serve as the foundation for a reliable and secure grid. Now is the time for action to ensure coal power can continue to provide the energy security we have come to take for granted.
Whether mining the copper, silver or iron ore so critical to our defense supply chain, or the coal that has for so long played an outsized role in delivering affordable, reliable power, the nation’s mining industry is essential to our national security. With the right policies in place that bring common sense reform to mine permitting and better value our baseload power plants, we can take bold, timely steps to strengthen the nation’s security.