Will New Mining Legislation Reduce US Dependence on Foreign Minerals?

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Let’s hope the review of mining law that is underway at the moment achieves the objective of allowing America’s natural resources to be developed responsibly, economically and above all quickly. As a report in Mineweb.com states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, America now depends on imports for 100% of 18 mineral commodities and is more than 50% reliant on another 43 important commodities. As the Obama administration is pouring billions of tax payers dollars into renewable energy such as wind-power and solar little thought is being given to the fact that many of these and other technologies are totally reliant on access to key metals that are in some cases 100% imported. It is not that the US doesn’t have such available resources, rather environmental objections to new mining ventures have meant they have been indefinitely delayed or dropped in favor of investment overseas. The same environmentalists that object to mining will simultaneously support green energy initiatives without thought as to where the metals are to come from to build the turbines or solar cells.

Two pieces of legislation are before a Senate committee. “The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009” (S.796), and “The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2009” (S.140) both of which would amend the general mining laws, which govern access to federal lands for the mining of locatable minerals such as silver, zinc, gold, copper, lead, rare earths, platinum, molybdenum and other metals.

To be fair to the mining industry, they recognize that change is overdue. Phillips Baker, CEO of Hecla Mining is reported on the National Mining Association website as saying, We recognize aspects of the existing system need to be changed to provide a fair return to the public from mining on public lands. The concern is that changes are positive and supportive for mining, not merely a route for a Democratic Congress to levy new taxes and or the environmental lobby to add new obligations on an industry that is already far behind the curve in terms of developing domestic resources and reducing US dependence on potentially unstable overseas sources of supply.

As US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, reform to the 1872 Mining Law is long overdue. Modern mining needs a fair framework of mining rights, royalties to state or federal government and environmental protection particularly around post mining restoration. Of course with so many vested interests, there have already been objections on both sides of the argument, but that is the nature of a democracy. The job of government is to find a way through to a workable solution.

–Stuart Burns

Comments (3)

  1. Ian Falconer says:

    There appears to be some long-term consideration starting to happen on this topic. Its way behind the curve, but the tide is turning.

    The National Academies Press – Minerals, Critical Minerals and the US Economy
    identifies a number of minerals critical to the US economy. However it doesn’t consider changes in economic emphasis, especially the changing energy infrastructure. It is mainly built on the old strategic defense stockpiles idea. Nice work, but dated.

    It doesn’t matter what you think of any economic or energy system metals are, right now, the ultimate resource and should be treated as finite resources in every case. This implies a much more robust foreign policy regarding metals, as opposed to the easy energy resources.

    The Chinese PM has a PhD in geology. I wonder whether this has anything to do with how they have set out to secure the resources necessary for their development ?

    Although I disagree with much of the sentiment, the 2004 paper by Richards in The Journal of Cleaner Production (doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2004.05.005
    ) is interesting reading.

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