The California Gold Rush moved people west in hopes of becoming rich off gold-mining operations. The state of Arizona is recognized by the mining industry for its vast amount of uranium and copper, and a rich supply of coal is still in demand in West Virginia where it has been mined since the 1700s.
America could easily sustain itself with its vast wealth of minerals, energy sources and other materials–all that is required is a little digging.
Instead, leaders of this country would rather import these valuable resources. It’s ironic that at a time when our economy is suffering and nationwide unemployment rates continue to rise, the federal government would choose to import rather than extract those very resources itself.
Dr. Madan Singh, director of the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources (DMMR) in Arizona, says that 56 percent of the total land area in the U.S. is not open to mining. Why?
“Permits take a long time to get and the environmentalists are constantly fighting against them,” says Luke Popovich, spokesperson for the National Mining Association (NMA).
Popovich says it can take five to seven years to open a new mine, depending on the area of the mine and how many agencies are involved and how many lawsuits you have to face from green groups.
Carol Raulston, also a spokesperson for the NMA, says it’s not so much the push-back from environmental groups as it is the time it takes to get the proper permits. She adds that this not good for investment into these operations. “You have lots of duplicate processes at federal, state and local levels,” Raulston says. “One agency might want you to change traffic patterns, but then that might affect your water permit, and on top of that you have to hold public hearings. These all take a lot of time.”
Unfortunately, this inconvenience for the mining industry has done a lot of harm. It has destroyed mining communities, contributed to unemployment numbers, caused delays in the manufacturing of American products and made the country more dependent upon foreign nations.
For example, metals referred to as rare earth elements (REEs), are locked up in a near-monopoly held by China. These metals are not only necessary for basic technologies but also play a heavy role in the defense industry.
REEs are responsible for such products as U.S. smart bombs, silent helicopter blades, night vision, missiles, and tank guns, as well as computers, cell phones, DVD players, and other civilian technologies.
Because China has lower labor costs, and largely ignores the environmental impact of the REEs, it currently has no competition for its holdings. And as the main holder of REEs, China has tightened its grip on its supply, therefore prices for the metal have skyrocketed and the process of manufacturing products requiring the metals have slowed down or been delayed.
America used to mine REEs, but its primary mine was shut down after being unable to comply with environmental standards in 2002 and the inability to get through the industry’s red tape. Instead of helping this mining operation work its way through the environmental regulations, the government essentially shut it down.
Though this same mine, called Project Phoenix in Mountain Pass, Calif., is in the process of mining again, after securing all necessary permits and already breaking ground, the U.S. is still at the whim of China to supply it with this necessary resource.
“Mining of minerals creates jobs domestically and having more access to these minerals means we have more security because there won’t be any shortages,” says Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn, Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. “If China continues to hold all the minerals they can cut off supply and we’d be in a real predicament.”
Rep. Lamborn recently introduced H.R. 2011, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011. The legislation instructs the Department of Interior Secretary to coordinate a government wide survey of the national mineral policy, mineral supplies, demands and other critical factors impacting mineral development, including workforce, permitting and regulations within six months time.
“We need to find out where the minerals are found, what is blocking their access and how vulnerable to shortages we are along with other key information,” Rep. Lamborn states. “We need to address this problem.”
Rep. Lamborn understands that the mining industry is one of the most important, reliable and oldest industries in the nation. It is a critical part of America’s past and has much to offer for its future.
The answer to a secure and prosperous nation is simple–let mining operations go to work and make use of the nation’s abundant resources.