Hal Quinn: Without minerals, no solar technology

Posted on August 19, 2013 by Minerals Make Life

July was a month of contradictions in Washington, in which the administration took action to block new mining claims on 300,000 acres of federal lands in Colorado and across the West in a bid to advance solar development — a move that hampers development of the very minerals integral to solar technology.

From copper and nickel used in solar cells and wind turbines, to cobalt used in hybrid vehicles, minerals are nothing short of essential to America’s next-generation energy technologies. The land restriction by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Public Land Order No. 7818 will undoubtedly limit the development of metals and hard rock minerals, even as demand for these raw materials — integral to countless products — is on the rise.

Fortunately, minerals mining and progressive energy technologies can coexist. The BLM’s 2006 Energy and Non-Energy Mineral Policy emphasized that “with few exceptions, mineral exploration and development can occur concurrently or sequentially with other resource uses.”

But the administration’s most recent action overlooks these realities. Limiting domestic minerals exploration and development jeopardizes the very technologies the government is trying to nurture while increasing our reliance on foreign sources of minerals — a tenuous position to be in when it comes to resources so vital to our nation.

As it stands, the United States is already 100 percent import reliant for 18 key minerals. The U.S. imports $6.9 billion worth of mineral materials from foreign countries annually, despite having $6.2 trillion worth of key minerals within its own borders. Despite this, the government already restricts or prohibits new mining operations on more than half of all federally owned public lands.

Heavy import dependence and lagging domestic mineral development is limiting our economy’s potential and hampering national security efforts. Beyond supporting nearly 14,000 jobs in Colorado and 1.1 million American jobs, mineral-based products added more than $2 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2012, or roughly 15 percent of the GDP. These numbers could be amplified substantially, were the government to establish a sound minerals policy that facilitates the development of the resources beneath our feet.

Furthermore, minerals are elemental to countless defense technologies, with the U.S. military alone using three-quarters of a million tons of minerals every year.

In a state where manufacturing exports have grown only 2 percent since 2003 compared to the national average of 70 percent, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, the government should be doing all that it can to support mineral development in Colorado — not limiting it unnecessarily

Without access to federal lands for mining, the administration puts America’s ability to develop these resources — and the innovative products they help build — at risk.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Pueblo Chieftain on August 18, 2013. 

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