The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this week unveiled a comprehensive energy bill that included legislation aimed at unlocking the nation’s vast mineral resources. Since minerals are critical building blocks for many of the U.S.’s traditional and renewable energy resources, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) rightly included her bill aimed at reforming the mine permitting process into a broader energy package.
Minerals are vital to U.S. energy systems. From copper and nickel used in solar cells and wind turbines to molybdenum used in gas transmission pipes and beryllium in nuclear reactors, these minerals are invaluable to manufacturing conventional and emerging technologies that supply Americans with a diverse energy mix.
It should be a top priority for Congress this session to implement policies that take advantage of our significant resource abundance in order to bolster our energy supply and strengthen the economy. A clear step toward achieving a comprehensive national energy policy is addressing the United States’ protracted and inefficient mine permitting system.
Murkowski, who as chairman of Energy and Natural Resources was a chief architect of the Senate’s energy package, has long recognized the connection between energy and minerals. She has shown consistent leadership on legislation that would allow better access to domestic mineral resources, including the American Mineral Security Act of 2015, which would require geological surveying of critical mineral resources and reduce federal permitting delays by setting deadlines.
Although the U.S. is home to one of the world’s largest mineral reserves, access to these resources is hampered by protracted permitting delays. On average, it takes a U.S. mine. seven to 10 years to obtain the necessary permits to operate. In comparison, mines in countries like Canada and Australia, which have similarly stringent environmental standards, are able to obtain permits in two to three years. The delays in the domestic permitting process have resulted in the U.S. importing more than half of 43 key minerals and metals. To date, less than half of the minerals U.S. manufacturers use are sourced from domestically mined resources.
A 2014 survey of more than 400 executives from various manufacturing industries shows that timely access to minerals and metals is a growing concern, with more than 91 percent citing minerals and metals scarcity as a risk. As such, unlocking resources in the United States’ own backyard and providing much-needed regulatory would undoubtedly benefit the entire economy.
Earlier this month, a House panel took a step forward in addressing issues with the mine permitting process when it cleared Rep. Mark Amodei’s (R-Nev.) National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2015. Now, it’s time for the Senate to follow suit by advancing Murkowski’s mining legislation.
Doing so will ensure reliable access to the United States’ wealth of mineral resources, support our economy and help achieve a sustainable “all-of-the-above” energy policy for the future.
Hal Quinn is the president and CEO of the National Mining Association.