Why the U.S. Needs Mine Permitting Reform
May 23, 2023
Nearly two decades ago, the U.S. attracted almost 20 percent of t...
Nearly two decades ago, the U.S. attracted almost 20 percent of the world’s total mining investment. The country produced and processed many minerals essential to manufacturing, infrastructure, technology, healthcare and energy. Since then, the U.S. has ceded its position as a source for many minerals deemed critical to our economy and China has now become the leading producer and/or supplier of 66 percent of mineral commodities listed as essential to U.S. economic and national security.
As it stands now, the U.S. only has one respective mine for cobalt, nickel and lithium, minerals essential to building domestic battery supply chains. This is not due to lack of resources – the U.S. has an estimated $6 trillion in mineral reserves – but rather a lack of confidence in the U.S. as a viable mining jurisdiction. The U.S. has duplicative, inefficient and costly permitting timeframes that keep viable mines trapped in limbo or held up in endless legal challenges.
As a result, the domestic minerals essential to U.S. automobile manufacturers for electric vehicles, their batteries, the infrastructure required to support them and to our advanced energy future are sidelined, and with them the jobs and economic security they bring to hundreds of communities across the country. Less than half of the mineral needs of U.S. manufacturing are met by domestically produced minerals, which leaves our economy and national security at a strategic disadvantage.
Policymakers from both sides of the aisle have recognized this challenge and have set out to fix America’s permitting process and reduce our dependence on foreign minerals. Many of these policy recommendations contain commonsense changes that would provide regulatory certainty to the U.S. mining industry without eliminating important environmental protections.
These are not wholesale changes but necessary improvements to clarify how federal, state and local agencies work together on environmental reviews, to set reasonable timeframes for reviews and decisions, and to set commonsense expectations on when legal challenges can be filed.
The world is experiencing the most minerals intensive period yet, where demand is expected to far outpace current and even future production; the U.S. has an opportunity to lead. In the short term, working with our allies to build stable supply chains is smart but that must complement the central and essential work of standing up the mineral production required for these supply chains at home; it cannot come in place of it.
The U.S. mining industry has a highly trained and well compensated workforce, and operates under world-class environmental, labor and safety standards. Policymakers should support the domestic mining industry to ensure it can help the nation meet ever-increasing mineral demands for the future.