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Onerous Regulatory Scheme for Mineral Development Exacerbates Foreign Resources Dependence

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 12, 2017 -

Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the arduous and uncertain regulatory scheme governing domestic mineral development and resulting impacts on America’s economic and national security. Panel members discussed America’s reliance on foreign minerals and the benefits of increasing domestic production.

“From rocks to roads, rare earths to green technologies, and iron ore to wind farms, all infrastructure projects rely upon a mining operation,” Subcommittee Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said. “The diversity of the nation’s mineral endowment allows for the U.S. to be self-sufficient, yet domestic production of solid mineral resources has been falling.” 

Dr. Murray Hitzman, Associate Director for Energy and Minerals for the U.S. Geological Survey, discussed the nation’s growing demand for minerals that are “essential to the nation’s economy, security and everyday life” and the reliance on other nations for mineral commodities. That reliance has “risen dramatically over the past 60 years,” he added.

Despite the domestic availability of many needed raw materials, the nation’s dependence on non-fuel mineral materials has more than doubled from 30 to 64 commodities since 1986. Today, less than half of minerals are sourced domestically.

Members and witnesses criticized unilateral executive mineral withdrawals and the negative impacts on economic investment and future development.

Katie Sweeney, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Mining Association, attributed the nation’s dependence on foreign minerals on the nation’s tangled web of bureaucratic regulations and “unwise and unwarranted mineral withdrawals” labelling them “bad public policy that [ignores] the vast sectors of our economy that depend upon a reliable and secure supply chain of minerals and metals.”

“We do have an amazing abundance of minerals here in the U.S. It’s just that the opportunities to get those out of the ground and into the marketplace are burdensome,” Sweeney added. “New mining operations are already either restricted or banned on more than half of all federally owned public lands.”

The withdrawal of lands has had massive impacts on the ability for the U.S. to be self-sufficient for many important minerals. “What’s the typical timeline for a mineral withdrawal,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) asked Sweeney.  

20 years,” Sweeney responded.But we’ve found that frequently it’s forgotten and those become de facto permanent withdrawals.”

Richard Silberglitt, Senior Physical Scientist at the RAND Corporation, argued that while dependence on importation is not problematic when fair market conditions exist in the origin country, “concerns arise when supply chains are dominated by countries that have weak governance or exercise control over their materials production sector.”

Worrisomely, China is a major supplier of critical minerals to the United States and supplies “more than 19 of the 30 materials for which the U.S. is more than 50 percent reliant on imports,” Silberglitt added.

“We are concerned about those materials and dependence on foreign sources because we have a number of defense systems that require technologically advanced materials,” Administrator of the Defense Logistics Agency Strategic Materials of the U.S. Department of Defense Ronnie Favors stated.

“Sourcing raw materials domestically keeps costs down, creates both direct and indirect jobs, reduces the holistic impact of mining, keeps the dollars invested in America in the United States, and keeps our security paramount,” Gosar said.

Click here to view full witness testimony. 

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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