We need a 21st century permitting system to meet 21st century challenges

Posted on July 12, 2012 by Minerals Make Life

Few countries can rival the United States or Canada when it comes to an abundance of mineral resources.  While both countries are blessed with world class resources, only one remains cursed with a third-world permitting system.  With a seven-to-ten year wait to receive permits and authorizations necessary to move forward with mineral development projects, the United States ranks last alongside Papua New Guinea as the least efficient permitting systems globally, according to the international consulting firm Behre Dolbear.   

A permitting system that is unpredictable and untimely discourages new investors and impairs the economic viability of projects.  Our neighbors to the north understand the advantages of mineral wealth are squandered—along with the jobs, security and prosperity it can bring—by a cumbersome process full of delays and duplication. Recently, my Canadian counterpart, Pierre Gratton, chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada, lauded his government’s steps to streamline the permitting process saying, “[we] are in global competition for mining investment and an effective and efficient regulatory regime can provide a competitive advantage.”  

Here are several of the Canadian initiatives that earned Gratton’s praise:

  • Deadlines early in the process for determining the type and scope of  environmental assessments requirements;
  • Specific timelines for completing those environmental assessments;
  • Legally binding deadlines for key regulatory permits;
  • Enhanced coordination and consolidation of responsibilities for provincial and federal agencies reviewing projects; and
  • Allowing provincial environmental assessments to substitute for federal assessments in order to eliminate duplication.

We have the opportunity to establish a 21st Century permitting system to prepare us for the 21st Century challenges of mineral supply chain reliability and security. The “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act” (H.R. 4402), would provide efficient, timely and thorough permit reviews by incorporating into the process best practices for coordination among state and federal agencies, clarifying responsibilities, avoiding duplication, setting time frames and bringing more accountability to the process. 

Our dependence on mineral imports has doubled over the past twenty years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  Today, less than half of the mineral needs of U.S. manufacturing are met from domestically mined minerals. When secure and reliable mineral supply chains disappear from our shores so do the downstream industries, related jobs, innovation and technology that depend on them.  These trends will only get worse if we do not advance policies that enable our domestic minerals industry to perform to its potential. According to a recent KPMG report, over the next 20 years demand for mineral resources will soar while supplies will become increasingly difficult to obtain.

Canada and other countries have clearly demonstrated the willingness and urgency to act to meet the challenges of this new global reality.  We must do so as well, otherwise we place our long term economic growth and security at risk.

Hal Quinn, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Mining Association

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