Summary of Hearings on Mining (7-23-03)
The House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met on July 17th to consider the role of strategic and critical minerals in maintaining national economic security. Witnesses representing the mining industry argued that US mineral resources have not been depleted and could be mined in an environmentally responsible and economically profitable manner if regulations and the permitting process were streamlined and enforced. Their testimonies were unchallenged and the need for a national mineral policy was stressed throughout the hearing.
The committee first questioned US Geological Survey (USGS) Director Charles G. Groat regarding the role that his agency plays in collecting, analyzing, and dispensing mineral information. Groat described a global mineral resources study slated to be finished in 2008, and explained that the survey would only be as good as the data they have. He noted that many areas, such as Alaska, are inadequately mapped and explored, and testified that there was "lots of potential" for new development and exploration even within the lower 48 states. In response to a question from Rep. James Gibbons (R-NV), Groat told the committee that the mining industry is losing its "institutional and educational value" as the nation's dependence on imported minerals increases. He pointed to the fairly recent falling off of mining schools as evidence of the industry's fading attraction to students as a career.
When questioned as to what she would like to see included in a national mineral policy, Ann Carpenter cited the prevention of "frivolous lawsuits" against mining companies as a high priority. She said that these lawsuits make the US mining industry uncertain enough to scare away investors. The varied and indecisive permitting procedures and regulations add to the cost and delays associated with litigation. Carpenter said that on average, the permitting process alone in the US costs approximately $5-10 million and takes 5-10 years. Douglas Silver agreed, and pointed to Chile as an example of a country with a set path for regulation and permitting which, if followed, promises "you get to mine." He does not find such certainty in the US, and told the committee that the government needs to streamline the process and "stick to it."
Under questioning from Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Silver said that even with higher labor and reclamation costs, mines in the US could be highly competitive if it weren't for the added expenses of litigation and uncertain regulations. He said that there is no evidence that the US's mineral resources are "picked over" or would be too expensive if the system were adjusted. Silver and Cole agreed that much resistance to mining in the US is based on an understanding of mining technology used decades ago, not modern tools and techniques.
At the end of the hearing, Subcommittee chair Barbara Cubin (R-WY)
asked each of the witnesses to submit a list of minerals that could
become problematic. This list would be shown to the administration
in order to raise awareness of the potential security problems and
heighten interest in a national mineral policy.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Emily R. Scott, AGI/AIPG Summer 2003 Intern
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Last updated on 7-23-03