Why the U.S. Needs Mine Permitting Reform
May 23, 2023
Nearly two decades ago, the U.S. attracted almost 20 percent of t...
The United States now imports 100 percent of 19 key mineral materials and more than 50 percent of an additional 24, many of which have been defined as strategic and critical to national security, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This is creating significant risk and national concern about the supply chain of many widely-used mineral commodities. A good example of our nation’s vulnerability was seen during the recent curtailment of rare earth element exports from China. What is not widely understood is that our nation’s over-reliance on imports is not due to a lack of domestic deposits of these resources.
Alaska, like many regions of the United States, holds tremendous domestic mineral resource potential. To highlight this fact, the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has initiated an annual Strategic & Critical Minerals Summit that provides a forum for the public and industry representatives to receive the latest information and discuss access to land, the permitting process, and on-going resource assessments. This year, more than 200 attendees from around the world heard presentations from 17 national and state experts. The summit also highlights the fact that Alaska’s governor is committed to environmentally responsible development of the state’s minerals endowment. In 2012, Gov. Parnell laid out a five-part plan to ensure the state is doing everything it can to facilitate the development of a strategic minerals sector in Alaska.
The governor has directed us to: 1) Undertake a statewide assessment of Alaska’s strategic and critical minerals; 2) Provide incentives for the development of known or highly prospective strategic mineral occurrences; 3) Improve the structure and efficiency of the permitting process; 4) Deepen coordination with public and private sector stakeholders to encourage domestic exploration, development and processing of strategic minerals; and 5) Attract new investment and markets for Alaska’s abundant mineral resources.
Alaska has a long history of responsible minerals exploration and production. Of the 43 minerals that are imported at greater than 50 percent, 13 have been historically produced from operating Alaskan mines, and there is potential for production of all but two. Exploration activity in the state is at an all-time high and the recent DNR Alaska’s Mineral Industry 2011 reports that more than $365 million was spent on exploration in 2011, which marked the seventh consecutive year with expenditures exceeding $100 million.
The nation and its citizens need reliable sources for the minerals we use in everyday life, and the State of Alaska is doing everything it can to help achieve that goal.
Robert Swenson is the State Geologist and Director of the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys in Fairbanks, Alaska.