September 21, 2020
A recent Foreign Policy Analytics’ Special Report reveals the f...
In the months following one of the most polarizing presidential elections of our time, it was widely agreed upon that a federal infrastructure package was the best hope for bipartisan cooperation under President Trump. It remains a hot topic today where congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House can all find something they support — and with good reason. When implemented in a fiscally responsible way, federal infrastructure projects have the potential to create jobs, boost wages and strengthen our national security. Utilizing American made materials to revitalize roads, bridges and airports can be the economic boost to jump-start communities across the country.
However, one of the key issues often overlooked in this conversation is the fact that all infrastructure projects rely upon abundant raw materials — particularly those from mining operations. Crushed stone, sand and gravel are literally the foundations for everything from railroads to seaports, power plants to wind farms, waste treatment facilities to communications grids and data storage centers. Metallurgical coal and iron ore are the primary ingredients of the six billion tons of steel contained in the U.S. National Highway System. Copper ore is highly resistant to the damage of water and other elements, which explains why 43 percent of the U.S. copper demand comes from the construction industry.
Our nation is blessed to have a diverse and abundant array of minerals allowing for the U.S. to be self-sufficient and rebuild our infrastructure 10 times over. It’s one of our biggest advantages over other international industrial competitors.
There is just one problem: America’s miners are being hamstrung by an arduous and uncertain regulatory scheme. As chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, I had the chance to hear directly from mining industry leaders during a congressional hearing last month. Their message to Congress was clear: Infrastructure won’t be on time without American mines.
In the U.S., any mining activity is preceded by years of environmental studies, permitting and stakeholder engagement, both at the state and federal levels. Everyone agrees that proper oversight of mining projects is necessary. However, on average, these projects are facing a seven- to 10-year permitting timeline. In some cases, the time required to obtain a permit can be almost 20 years. In comparison, mining projects in Canada and Australia can obtain the necessary permits in two to three years without limiting environmental protections. Making matters worse, even when a project completes the permitting process, more often than not, mining companies will face automatic and frivolous legal challenges from environmental extremist groups.
The reality is that these delays, and more importantly, the uncertainties in obtaining the necessary permits for mineral exploration and development, drive investments away from the U.S. and result in the unethical squandering of the nation’s resources. This self-inflicted wound has inevitably led to increased dependency on imports for the essential materials used in all infrastructure projects. Without significant reforms, “Made in America” will be a thing of the past.
Fortunately, President Trump has sent an early signal that his administration is focused on helping, not hurting America’s mining operators. Within his first week of office, the president signed an executive order expediting the environmental review and approval process for infrastructure projects. This action is a great start, but for any bipartisan plan to succeed in delivering infrastructure projects that are on time and under budget, Congress must focus on long-lasting permitting reforms to make it easier to access raw materials in a responsible way. Sourcing raw materials domestically will keep costs down, creates both direct and indirect jobs, reduces the holistic impact of mining by minimizing transportation costs and keeps the dollars invested in American infrastructure in the United States.
Gosar represents Arizona’s 4th District. He currently serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Read his full op-ed in The Hill here.