Progress in Mine Permitting Means Progress for America

Author: Rich Nolan
Domestic Mining to meet Mineral Demand

This year has been full of discussions pertaining to the urgent need for mine permitting reform to address growing mineral demand after decades of overreliance on foreign countries for our mineral needs.

With increasing recognition of this problem and growing support for finding a solution, now is the time to act. Projections show that reaching many of the goals set by this administration for electrification, infrastructure and energy will be nearly impossible if the supply chains for the minerals they require are not in place by 2035. It is critical that the U.S. reduce its import dependence and source the minerals we need for the future on American soil.

Congress and the Biden-Harris administration must act to streamline this country’s mine permitting process so we can unlock the economic and security benefits of supporting our energy and technology sectors with American minerals.

Our Biggest Hurdle Continues to Plague Us

The U.S. cannot currently meet the mineral demand to build the energy and technology supply chains of the future. It’s not because the U.S. doesn’t have minerals – we are one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world, with an estimated $6.2 trillion worth of domestic mineral reserves under our feet. It is because our mine permitting process is obstructing access to these vast resources.

Our country needs 10 times more mineral processing capacity than what we have today to meet short- and long-term goals. Even as the administration continues to say the right things when it comes to supply chain security – and is using tools including the Defense Production Act and the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office to stimulate new projects – mine permitting reform continues to be the missing piece of the puzzle.

We Can Meet the Demand with Domestic Resources

The average person doesn’t realize how pervasive critical minerals are in our daily lives, but they are integral to the digital technologies that many of us rely on every day. As new technologies are integrated onto grids around the world – and the infrastructure is built out to support them, mineral demands are projected to skyrocket by 500-1,000 percent.

For lithium and graphite alone, which are essential minerals for electric vehicle batteries, we expect demand to increase by 4,000 percent. The U.S. is home to 3.6% of the world’s lithium reserves, which is about 750,000 tons. And while we have not produced graphite in our country since the 1950s, there are millions of metric tons in Alaska’s reserves alone. Without efficient, realistic and updated permitting processes, U.S. mineral reserves like this will lay dormant.

The U.S. is already 100 percent reliant on foreign countries for 17 critical minerals and 50 percent reliant for an additional 30 essential minerals. Consider how much more dependent we will become on foreign economies in the coming decades as mineral demands increase. This overreliance will lead to supply chain shortages and price hikes—things we’ve already experienced. Unleashing our domestic workforce into mining the minerals we need here at home shields our economy, reinvigorates our supply chain capabilities and protects our national security.

Now is the Time for Policy Action

While the growing recognition of the need for mine permitting reform is refreshing, we must enact policy solutions if we are going to meet our energy goals with American-mined minerals.

The support, in theory, is there. The Biden-Harris administration has acknowledged the importance of mining. Congress and this administration have incentivized the processing, production and use of domestically sourced minerals. For us to see true progress for American mining, however, mine permitting reform is a must.

At the National Mining Association’s (NMA’s) recent event on mineral demand, we heard from administration officials that President Biden supports permitting reform legislation. There is recognition that the U.S. will be limited in meeting key goals not by our appetite to develop and utilize technologies, but by the limited availability of minerals.

With legislation on the table and political support across the aisle, now is the moment to support American mining and streamline the mine permitting process that can help us achieve our goals with domestic resources.