The mood in Washington is especially trying as legislators confront a slew of difficult decisions, both foreign and domestic. However, there is an opportunity for Congress to stimulate job growth, spur economic activity, revive domestic manufacturing and assuage some of our security concerns.
How? By passing legislation to ensure that U.S. mineral and metals resources are no longer overlooked.
The House last month passed the bipartisan National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, which stands to allow for the more efficient development of the nation’s $6.2 trillion worth of minerals and metals. The production of our abundant reserves base could supply the raw materials our manufacturers desperately need, buttress our national security establishment and the requisite military equipment to do so, as well as ensure ready access to the resources that will help the United States pioneer advanced energy technologies.
Lest anyone should think otherwise, this bill would not in any way minimize or hinder the environmental review that is an important part of the permitting process.
To the contrary, the legislation encourages better interaction and coordination when multiple agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency, are involved in permitting.
As it stands, the multiple agencies conduct duplicative reviews separately, one at a time, without coordination. In order to achieve a more efficient process, the House bill requires the agencies to consider best practices, including conducting concurrent reviews. In other words, it asks the agencies to coordinate and work together on their National Environmental Policy Act reviews.
The 30-month deadline for an answer does not mandate approval. In fact, if both parties agree, the process can continue. The goal of the bill is to provide some predictability and transparency to an opaque, inefficient process and to serve as an impetus for the permitting agencies to improve the process.
With the world’s largest reserve base of key mineral resources, the United States could supply its industries with the resources they need. And we do need them. Cellphones, solar panels, night-vision goggles, construction equipment, high-speed microchips and hybrid vehicles — and an innumerable amount of other manufactured goods — require minerals such as gold, copper, iron ore, molybdenum and silver, all of which can be found right beneath our feet.
Yet much of our resources remain locked underground by an outdated and underperforming mining permitting system, plagued by unnecessary delays and redundancies at the local, state and federal levels.
As a result, mineral-rich communities across the nation are missing out on job growth and investment and forfeiting revenues at all levels.
Currently, it can take nearly a decade for companies to receive approval to mine for minerals in the United States — five times longer than it takes in countries with comparably stringent environmental safeguards, such as Canada and Australia. As a result, the United States is unable to supply domestic companies with even half of their mineral needs, leaving them completely import-reliant for 18 mineral commodities in a tight global supply market.
This dependence on foreign countries for minerals not only puts our supply chains at risk, but it also leaves job and economic growth opportunities off our shores.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.