Yesterday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing “To Examine the United States’ Increasing Dependence on Foreign Sources of Minerals and Opportunities to Rebuild and Improve the Supply Chain in the United States”. The Hearing featured testimony from a variety of experts who were able to provide insight into both the importance of cultivating a domestic supply chain for minerals and the current impediments to investment in mining in the United States. The list of witnesses was as follows:
· Dr. Murray Hitzman, Associate Director, Energy and Minerals, The U.S. Geological Survey (testimony)
· Mr. Alf Barrios, Chief Executive, Rio Tinto Aluminum (testimony)
· Dr. Chris Hinde, Director of Reports, Metals and Mining, S&P Global Market Intelligence (testimony)
· Mr. Randy MacGillivray, Vice President, Project Development, Ucore Rare Metals, Inc. (testimony)
· Vice Admiral Kevin J. Cosgriff, USN (Retired), President and Chief Executive Officer, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) (testimony)
· Dr. Roderick G. Eggert, Viola Vestal Coulter Foundation Chair in Mineral Economics Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines (testimony)
Chairwoman Murkowski (R-AK) continues to be a champion for mineral development and investment in the United States. Her opening statement as well as her questions demonstrated her knowledge of the role minerals play in the global and domestic economy and the reliance every sector has on accessible and affordable minerals. In addition to the predictably supportive Republican Senators, the Democrat Senators in attendance all also appeared to understand the importance of the mining industry and the responsible development of domestic resources. During the Q&A portion of the hearing the Senators asked questions on a variety of issues that impact IMA-NA members. Please see the synopses below on questions of particular interest.
· Permitting: Multiple Senators asked for insight on how the permitting process impacts US development of mineral resources. The consistent message from the panel was that the permitting process in the United States needs takes substantially longer than Canada and Australia, two countries with comparable standards, and that the process can be improved by eliminating duplicative components, syncing up different agencies’ requirements to work on things simultaneously, setting actualized deadlines, and providing certainty in the long term requirements.
· CERCLA: Senator Lee (R-UT) asked whether CERCLA 108(b) would have a negative impact on the mining industry. Mr. Barrios answered that the rule would disincentivize investment in new mining projects in the United States. Additionally, Barrios noted that the bonding requirements are duplicative as companies already carry bonding under other programs to cover the clean up of contaminated sites.
· Education: The Committee had questions related to both the education of the general public, Congress, and the Administration about the industry and the state of the mining engineering pipeline at mining schools. These questions reflect conversations IMA-NA members and staff continue on the best way to increase awareness of our industry in a positive light. In addition, the focus on encouraging the next generation of mining professionals also mirrors current IMA-NA outreach and program development.
· Minerals Science: Senator Murkowski took some time to comment on her belief in funding the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to provide the US with the most complete information possible on the resources available. She specifically focused on the need to create a complete map of the minerals of United States, as only 1/3 of the country is currently mapped.
· Transportation: Senator Stabenow (D-MI) asked a question about the role access to reasonable transportation for mined products has in promoting domestic production of minerals. The panel all related that transportation costs made up a large part of operating budgets and certainly could negatively impact domestic production.
· Soda Ash: Senator Barrasso (R-WY) asked a question about how minerals, such as Soda Ash, can remain competitive in a global market when US producers face both higher transportation costs and regulatory burdens, and are not subsidized in the way China subsidizes mining. Dr. Hitzman highlighted the importance of reliable transportation infrastructure, favorable tax codes, and consistent interpretation of laws and regulations.
The hearing gave a good indication of how the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee views the role of the mining industry in our economy and our national defense. Chairwoman Murkowski acknowledged plans to reintroduce her legislation S. 883, American Mineral Security Act of 2015, from last session as a way to further raise the importance of minerals to our national and economic well-being. Overall, the hearing provided the industry the opportunity to highlight the challenges of operating in the United States as well as the positive contributions the industry makes to society.
To read Chairwoman Murkowski's opening statement click here.
To watch the recording of the hearing click here.