Don't neglect mining in America

Shutterstock.com

Article Highlights

  • America’s growing reliance on other countries for strategically important minerals ought to be on voters' minds.

    Tweet This

  • U.S. mining policy has become increasingly inept - thoughtless and heedless of consequences.

    Tweet This

  • We ought to make better use of our own resources.

    Tweet This

America’s growing reliance on other countries for strategically important minerals is not much of an issue in this election year. It seems not to be on voters’ minds, but it really ought to be.

U.S. mining policy has become increasingly inept — thoughtless and heedless of consequences. The U.S. has one of the most complex mine-permitting systems in the world, marked by delays and redundancies. Obtaining a mining permit typically takes seven to 10 years, five times longer than in Canada or Australia. Companies seeking to open a new mine sometimes must deal with 10 or more federal and state agencies.

Worse, the Environmental Protection Agency claims it can revoke a mining permit already granted, raising regulatory uncertainty to an entirely new level. This isn’t smart or sustainable. How can mining companies invest in the United States if a project can be arbitrarily stopped at any time?

Amazingly, the federal government restricts — or has an outright ban — on new mining operations on more than half of all federally owned public lands.

Why should Americans care about the supply of mineral resources? Well, for one thing, we import $119 billion in minerals annually. If we continue to neglect domestic mining, manufacturers will become more vulnerable to supply disruptions and sudden jumps in the cost of minerals — both commodity and rare earth metals such as neodymium, samarium and dysprosium — that are critically important to defense and energy technologies, automobile components and a wide range of high-tech consumer products.

How bad is the situation? Indonesia, a major mineral producer and exporter, banned the foreign sale of bauxite, copper and nickel concentrates and raw ore. China, saying that it needs to give priority to its own domestic manufacturers, banned the export of rare earth metals important in the manufacture of jet fighter engines, anti-missile defense systems, night vision goggles and smart bombs.

Such bans have led to a two-tiered pricing system for imported minerals: U.S. manufacturers pay a higher price, undercutting industrial competitiveness. Some U.S. companies have resorted to moving their manufacturing operations overseas so that they can obtain minerals at less cost.

What could turn this dangerous situation around? Congress should pass proposed legislation that would streamline the cumbersome mine-permitting process in ways that could be done without interfering with environmental safeguards. The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act would achieve that.

The U.S. currently relies on imports to meet virtually all of its needs for 18 different minerals. Globally, the U.S. share of investment in mining is at an all-time low. It has dropped from 21 percent of the world’s mining investment in the early 1990s to just 8 percent today. This tailspin has cost thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue.

With sufficient investment, America could build its own mineral supply chain. For example, an estimated 13 percent of the world’s rare earth metal reserves are in the United States, mainly on government land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

Instead of relying heavily on foreign countries for commodity minerals such as copper, nickel, cobalt and titanium, we ought to make better use of our own resources.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Mark J.
Perry

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.