Mining industry advocate's view: State’s mineral wealth is key to supply stability
How are labor strikes in South Africa, Western trade sanctions against Russia, and ample mineral resources in Minnesota related? They all affect the global availability of platinum-group metals like platinum and palladium, the raw materials critical to U.S. competitiveness as well as economic opportunity in Minnesota. As tensions rise across Russia and Ukraine, the potential for further economic sanctions could disrupt Russian supplies of platinum-group metals. The current labor strike in South Africa’s mining sector has shut in production and further exacerbated supply concerns at a time of growing demand.
Platinum-group metals are crucial to the supply chains of countless U.S. industries and contribute to the production process of more than 20 percent of all manufactured goods. These metals are found in everything from catalytic converters and fuel cells in next-generation vehicles to computer chips and medical equipment, among various other applications across a myriad of industries. As prices for these metals spike to their highest levels since August 2011, American businesses are forced to play a zero-sum game to secure their raw-material needs. As it stands, the U.S. remains reliant on foreign imports for more than
60 percent of our palladium and nearly 80 percent of our platinum.
This is a needless burden on our economy and industries, as Minnesota is home to some of the world’s largest undeveloped reserves of platinum-group metals.
Minnesota’s metal and mineral wealth could buttress domestic needs in any future trade disruption while shortening supply chains for U.S. industries reliant on platinum-group metals.
The Duluth Complex, a geological formation in Northeastern Minnesota, is the world’s second-largest accumulation of platinum-group metals and polymetallic copper. The Twin Metals Minnesota and NorthMet projects, currently exploring in the Duluth Complex, hold the potential to create thousands of jobs and significant economic opportunity for the state if brought to fruition, all while providing the raw materials needed to drive American industries forward.
Sadly, despite this world-class mineral reserve, a duplicative permitting process for new mineral and metal mines has hindered the development of these projects and lent further to supply-chain instability. Despite boasting the world’s largest mineral-reserve base, valued at more than $6.2 trillion, the U.S. remains 100 percent import-reliant on 19 other mineral commodities in large part due to our outdated regulatory framework. Today, it can take nearly a decade for companies to receive approval to mine for minerals and metals in the U.S. That’s five times longer than in countries with comparably stringent environmental safeguards such as Canada and Australia. This has forced investment and opportunity abroad while keeping our much-needed mineral wealth locked underground.
Fortunately, policymakers have begun to recognize the importance of minerals to American competitiveness and economic success. Last September, the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013.” It addressed several national mineral challenges and ensured efficient, timely and thorough permit reviews without reducing any of the country’s strict environmental protections. To the contrary, the legislation encourages better interaction and coordination among the multiple agencies involved in permitting, such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Environmental Protection Agency.
By establishing predictable and more efficient permitting, this bill enabled Minnesota and other resource-rich states across the nation to produce the raw materials fundamental to domestic industries while creating high-wage jobs and economic growth.
In the long term, the responsible development of domestic mineral and metals reserves will better protect the U.S. in times of heightened global instability and trade conflict. It’s time our leaders in Washington pushed for this measure to be brought to the Senate floor in order to strengthen and secure American supply chains and ensure steady economic growth in Minnesota.
Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Mining Association (nma.org), which advocates on behalf of America’s mining and minerals resources. He wrote this for the News Tribune.