Minerals and metals are vital to maintaining our national security. Every year, the Department of Defense (DOD) uses about 750,000 tons of minerals such as beryllium, copper, lead, molybdenum, nickel, silver, yttrium, and zinc for many different defense technologies, including military gear such as night-vision goggles, high-performance jet engines, and surveillance applications.
Lighter than aluminum and stronger than steel, beryllium is an important resource for the aerospace and defense industries. But did you know that bertrandite ore mined right here in Utah is the only source of beryllium in the western hemisphere? If beryllium was not mined by Materion Natural Resources in the Spor Mountain area of central Utah, the U.S. would be primarily dependent on Kazakhstan for this critical resource.
The U.S. has tremendous mineral resources, worth an estimated $6.2 trillion, yet our reliance on foreign sources of minerals continues to increase. In fact, our import reliance for important minerals and metals hit a record high in 2016.
Why are we increasingly reliant on foreign sources of minerals? In short, there are two main reasons: restricted access to mineral deposits and an inefficient permitting system. Places where economically viable deposits were formed and discovered. Without access to public lands for exploration, those economically viable deposits cannot be discovered, and there will be no future mine to provide the corresponding economic and societal benefits.
Even if we do have access to mineral deposits, the U.S. has a permitting system for mining that is outdated and inefficient, leading to an average federal permitting timeframe of seven to ten years for mine development to begin. That is one of the longest permitting processes for mining projects in the world. Countries such as Canada and Australia, which have environmental safeguards similar to those in the U.S., can get mines through the permit process in two or three years. Current permitting processes, quite frankly, obstruct domestic mining efforts.
A 2015 study, Permitting, Economic Value and Mining in the United States shows how delays in the U.S. mine permitting process diminish the value of a minerals project. On average, a domestic mining project can lose a third of its value as it waits for the numerous permits needed to begin production, and the longer the wait, the greater the chance the mine will no longer be worth the investment. In short, lengthy delays in permit reviews compromise the commercial viability of mining projects by increasing costs, reducing the net present value of investments and jeopardizing financing. The efficiency and predictability of the permitting process matters in decisions about where to invest.
Investment moving outside the U.S. is illustrated clearly by trends in worldwide exploration dollars spent by mining companies. Last year, the U.S attracted only 7 percent of the industry’s investment in exploration, down from nearly 20 percent just a couple of decades ago. Clearly, if companies are not exploring, new mineral deposits will not be found and domestic sources of minerals and metals critical to our economy and our national defense will not be developed.
There is much talk these days about rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and increasing U.S manufacturing jobs. However, our dependence on imported minerals makes the manufacturing industry nervous. Edelman Berland, a consulting firm specializing in global insight and analytics, conducted a survey of 400 manufacturing executives in the U.S. and found that 90 percent of them were concerned about their access to minerals and metals needed for their operations.
Mining is the beginning of the supply chain for everything our highly technological society uses or consumes on a daily basis. The possibility of supply disruptions makes the U.S. vulnerable, and it is something that must be addressed.
The federal government needs to enact policies and incentives that will ensure access to mineral deposits, reduce permitting delays and encourage investment and production of America’s vast mineral resources to supply the strategic and critical metals and minerals necessary to create, sustain and enhance U.S. manufacturing jobs, a robust economy, and our standard of living.
Even our national security depends on it.