February 26, 2013
A year ago, Newt Gingrich had a plan to colonize the moon; since ...
This week, a flutter of media coverage highlighted the growing interest amongst venture capitalists and tech-industry leaders alike to head to space to mine asteroids for the minerals and metals crucial to next-generation technologies.While an important endeavor for future generations, asteroid mining is no panacea to our immediate minerals needs.
These ambitious plans to mine asteroids highlight a growing global concern about minerals access. But U.S. companies don’t need to scour space for the minerals vital to global competitiveness — not when America has more than $6.2 trillion worth of key mineral resources within its borders and leads the world in the breadth of its commodity mineral and metal reserves.
And yet, a cumbersome mining permitting process is restricting access to this vast mineral wealth and, in turn, driving American companies overseas and, now apparently, into outer space. As it stands, it can take up to 10 years to receive approval to mine for minerals in the United States — a primary reason the country’s share of global investments in metals mining has declined from 21 to 8 percent in the past 20 years.
Slipping minerals production could not come at a worse time. After more than a decade of lost ground to China and other export dynamos, U.S. manufacturers are finally showing signs of regaining their competitive edge. According to a report released Tuesday by Boston Consulting Group, rising exports and “reshoring” of production to the United States from China “could create 2.5 to five million American factory and service jobs associated with increased manufacturing” by 2020. According to the study’s authors, this could reduce the unemployment rate by as much as two to three percentage points.
To fuel this resurgence, manufacturers acknowledge they are going to need access to a stable, economical supply of raw materials. Currently, America’s innovators worry that their mineral supplies are threatened by a tight global supply market, and a lag in domestic minerals mining. In a 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, 73 percent of U.S. CEOs in the automotive industry consider minerals and metals scarcity a pressing issue. The same problem applies to 78 percent of high-tech industry CEOs and 50 percent of aviation CEOs.
As the world’s population surges past seven billion and millions of people join the middle class in fast-rising economies across the globe, demand for minerals will only continue to rise.
To boost access to these critical resources, the United States needs a commonsense minerals policy that encourages investment in responsible resource development — not a space venture. If ever there was an opportunity for bi-partisan cooperation to boost our mining and manufacturing sectors, this is it. By revisiting our inefficient permitting process when Congress returns to Washington, the United States will not only bolster manufacturing, but it will see growing job numbers and a healthier economy. The solution is simple, and we don’t have to leave Earth to make it a reality.