Alaska Sen introduces critical mineral bill
Legislation tackles long mine permitting timeline in the US Metal Tech News – April 28, 2021
Last updated 4/27/2021 at 3:58pm
Seeking to bolster America's critical mineral supply chain, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced legislation that tackles the notoriously long permitting process in the United States.
"America's reliance on foreign countries for the production and recycling of our critical minerals is a vulnerability to our national security, a disadvantage to our economy, and a hindrance to our global competitiveness. Unfortunately, the current federal permitting and review process is painfully inefficient-a major deterrent for producers, refiners, and recyclers who desire to supply the minerals that make our modern life possible," said Murkowski. "By improving the permitting processes we have in place, we are creating greater opportunity for America to rebuild a robust domestic critical minerals supply chain."
The senator from Alaska has been raising alarms about America's over-reliance on foreign countries, especially China, for the minerals and metals critical to its economy and defense.
With the rising need for rare earths, battery metals, and other mined materials in new technologies such as electric vehicles and renewable energy generation, a growing number of Washington DC lawmakers have joined the call for the U.S. to do more to secure its own supply.
"If we don't increase domestic critical mineral production we will continue to be reliant on hostile, foreign nations," said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, a co-sponsor of the legislation. "This bill ensures we don't take a backseat to China and other countries who have terrible environmental standards and atrocious human rights violations. We can produce these minerals here in the U.S. and grow jobs, protect the environment and bolster our rural communities."
In 2018, the U.S. Geological Survey identified 35 minerals, metals and groups of elements deemed critical to the nation's economic wellbeing and national security. In its most recent annual Mineral Commodity Summaries report, the agency found that the U.S. depends on imports for more than 50% of its supply of 28 of these critical minerals, including 100% import-reliant for 14 of them.
One thing that has lawmakers especially concerned is that China is quite often the top supplier of these materials.
"Critical minerals and metals are essential for virtually all modern technology, from cellphones and solar panels to vital military defense technologies, like components in the F35s," said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. "It is outrageous that we have allowed China to dominate the production and processing of these minerals, and it's a threat to our economy and to our national security. The United States has a tremendous opportunity to bring home the production of these critical minerals and create good-paying jobs, particularly in states like Alaska, where these minerals are found in abundance."
With Alaska and many other states having an abundance of critical minerals, America's dependence on imports is not about the lack of domestic sources. Instead, it is often more about a mine permitting process that typically takes seven to 10 years to complete. When you add on another two to four years to build a mine, companies hoping to develop a mine in the U.S. have to take a leap of faith that the expense of permitting and development will be justified by the time a mine delivers its product to markets.
The legislation introduced by Murkowski and cosponsored by eight Republican senators aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. permitting process by requiring federal agencies to:
• Establish clear timelines for decisions regarding applications, operating plans, leases, licenses, permits, and other use authorizations for critical mineral-related activities on federal land.
• Create clear, quantifiable permitting performance goals and to track progress toward those goals.
• Engage in early collaboration with agencies, stakeholders, project sponsors, and consult with state, local, and tribal governments to resolve concerns.
• Provide clear and logical ways to make the process cost-effective and timely.
"It's imperative to our national security and economic growth that the United States have a robust domestic critical mineral supply chain," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina. "This commonsense legislation is key to achieving that goal."
Beyond securing supplies of the minerals and metals most critical to the U.S. and bolstering the economy, domestic mining means that America is not deporting environmental and human rights violations to countries that have lessor standards in exchange for the materials needed for the smartphones, electric vehicles, renewable energy, and other technologies.
"American manufacturing and technological development can't be beholden to the whims of foreign nations, especially when we have these resources in our own back yard," said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota. "If we don't develop critical minerals in the United States, we force ourselves to rely on adversarial countries like China who have little-to-no labor or environmental protections."
The legislation, "S.1352: A bill to improve the quality and timeliness of federal permitting and review processes with respect to critical mineral production on federal land, and for other purposes" was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Eight Republican senators co-sponsored the bill.