Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Mining Association (nma.org), which advocates on behalf of America’s mining and minerals resources.
A new government report suggests we must revisit the regulatory regime that restricts hard rock mining in the United States. A surge in demand is coming for the minerals and metals needed in every sector of our economy, and we are woefully unprepared to meet it.
The problem is not a lack of domestic resources. We have them in spades. In fact, the U.S. possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion in minerals reserves. But we still import nearly $7 billion in minerals and metals each year. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2017 Mineral Commodity Summary, America is import-dependent for half or all of 50 key mineral commodities. And this import dependency is only poised to grow.
Our regulatory policies governing hard rock mining are now so obstructive that they almost guarantee mining investment goes elsewhere, despite our vast resources. There’s no better example of this regulatory straightjacket than our mine permitting process. Gaining the necessary approvals to open a new U.S. mine can take seven to 10 years, and often longer. This is absurd and unnecessary.
In Canada and Australia, nations with similar environmental standards, the mine permitting process takes just two to three years on average. We can and should do better. Revising our permitting process and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive. Commonsense reforms are available, if we choose to act.
President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan highlights the urgency of reform. The Trump administration has already signaled its interest in using American-made materials, where possible, to rebuild or expand our roads, airports, railroads, and pipelines.
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