US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska), last week, introduced the American Mineral Security Act of 2015, a bill that promises “to prevent future mineral supply shocks and boost the competitiveness of our energy, defense, electronics, medical, and manufacturing industries.”
The AMSA would require that the director of the US Geological Survey establish a list of minerals critical to the American economy and provide a comprehensive set of policies to address issues associated with their discovery, production, use, and reuse.
It also would require that the federal government establish a methodology for the designation of critical minerals, based on potential supply disruptions and the importance of their use, and require the list to be reviewed and updated at least every two years.
There are also changes in permitting, the Federal Register process and the bill would extend an executive order issued by President Obama in 2012, regarding the permitting of important infrastructure projects, to mines that produce critical minerals and critical mineral manufacturing projects. The full bill is available online at the Senate website.
Murkowski, the Chairwoman and top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has for years been pushing a broad mining reform package, which had languished in the Democratic-controlled Senate. While the AMSA would be a much more sweeping reform of several hurdles that face domestic miners, Murkowski and a bipartisan coalition of like-minded lawmakers mostly from natural resource-rich states have managed to pass some rare earth mining measures in recent years through broader legislation, including riders calling on the Department of Defense to study its needs for the high-tech elements. They have also funded the Department of Energy‘s Ames research hub.
“Our foreign mineral dependence is a serious challenge, decades in the making,” Murkowksi said in a statement, “and we urgently need to reform federal policies all along the supply chain.”
The US mining industry welcomed the legislation as a common-sense call to action for domestic producers who have seen costs and time-t0-mine rates rise for the last 20 years.
“While few countries can rival our abundance of mineral resources, even fewer have a permitting system as inefficient as the US,” said National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn. “Our antiquated and duplicative permitting process discourages investment and jeopardizes the growth of downstream industries, related jobs and technological innovation that all depend on a secure and reliable mineral supply chain. Our country’s dependence on mineral imports has doubled over the past 20 years. Today, less than half of the mineral needs of US manufacturing are met from domestically mined minerals. These trends will only worsen if we do not advance policies that enable US mining to perform to its potential.”
Regulation And A Smaller Mining Industry
According to an HSBC study published last year, 50% of US geoscience professionals, including engineers, are just 10-15 years from retirement and HSBC data shows similar trends in Canada, South Africa and Australia.
NMA says the AMSA would streamline the process of opening new mines as well as secure critical needs for manufacturing.
“Without compromising our rigorous environmental standards, this legislation helps reduce the inefficiencies of our underperforming permitting system by incorporating best practices for improving coordination among state and federal agencies and clarifying responsibilities – all necessary to bring accountability to the process,” Quinn said. “NMA urges support for American minerals and Sen. Murkowski’s far-sighted legislation.”