C'mon Obama: Let's mine more minerals in the US

The United States should take a cue from Canada when it comes to speeding up the environmental approval of mining and energy projects. As US projects wither on the vine due to an excessive and Byzantine environmental approval process (as an example take Polymet Mining's project in Minnesota which has been pored over by government officials for 7 years), in Canada the government finally took the bull by the horns and said in yesterday's budget it would "… streamline the review process for major projects, according to the following principle: one project, one review, completed in a clearly defined time period."

Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, seems to agree. In an op-ed in The Washington Times, Quinn notes that over the last 20 years, the US share of global investment in mining has been cut in half, from 20% to 8%. This has made the US more dependent on other countries for metals, including strategic metals like rare earths. No surprise, then, to see the Obama Adminstration earlier this month challenging China at the World Trade Organization for its export restrictions on rare earth elements needed in everything from cell phones to electric car batteries to missile guidance systems. China controls 95% of rare earth production and 75% of graphite, both of which are considered strategic minerals. (There is currently only one US producer of rare earths, Molycorp, and no producers of graphite) Quinn says the US is losing out to other countries, and he's right:

It currently takes up to five times longer to get approval to mine for minerals here than it does in other countries, driving investment, production and jobs away from America. From the time a project request is submitted to the time a final ruling is made, a decade can slip by and paperwork as much as 6 feet high filed and reviewed – repeatedly. Not surprisingly, when investors are ready to move on a project, they turn to countries that are ready to do business, rather than tackle the Byzantine regulatory review process here in the United States.

This despite the fact that the Unites States is estimated to contain $6.2 trillion in mineral resources. Here is Quinn's recommendation:

The United States must follow suit and develop a strategy to bring more U.S. minerals mining operations online. If our leaders fail to act, supply disruptions will continue to pose a threat, not only to minerals users and manufacturers, but to the U.S. economy as a whole.

And the soundbite:

People wonder why our economy isn’t humming the way it should. You know there’s a problem when we rely more every year on mineral imports despite having the good fortune of leading the world in the diversity of our domestic commodity mineral supplies.

Continue reading the op-ed here