By Hal Quinn
Last month, I met with several of Arizona’s top business and manufacturing leaders in Phoenix to discuss the current economic challenges and opportunities facing the state, as well as the mining industry’s role in supporting various pillars of the local economy. One clear consensus that emerged among these leaders: minerals are vital to local manufacturers’ operations and to a prosperous, secure future for us all.
The impacts of mineral production in Arizona reach beyond the mining sector. According to a recent analysis by Arizona State University, the mining of Arizona’s mineral wealth supported more than 52,100 jobs across a variety of industries last year, while generating $4.8 billion in total income for workers, business owners and local governments in the state.
Home to roughly 1,200 aerospace and defense companies, Arizona also relies on minerals to produce the technologies that keep our troops safe and our military complex strong. From the molybdenum in missile and aircraft parts to the copper in military communications systems, minerals continue to support Arizona’s standing among the top five states for U.S. space and defense manufacturing operations.
As a leading mineral producer, Arizona is also providing vital raw materials for local and national technology companies specializing in everything from renewable energy to the latest computer and electronic products. For example, more than one ton of copper is used in a single wind turbine, 64 pounds are needed for each Toyota Prius on the road, and 16 grams can be found in each of the world’s six billion cellphones.
Arizona is also home to Resolution Copper, one of the largest undeveloped copper resources in the world that is anticipated to have a 50-year mine life supporting more than 3,700 jobs annually. But despite the state’s world-class copper reserves, U.S. innovators remain dependent on foreign imports for 35 percent of the copper they need. When considering other minerals essential to high-tech manufacturing — including zinc, silver and rare earths — U.S. import dependence is even higher. American companies are currently 100 percent import reliant for 18 key minerals that are crucial to production supply chains.
Though the United States holds more than $6.2 trillion worth of minerals that could address many import woes, an outdated and duplicative permitting process for new mining projects keeps much of our mineral wealth locked underground. As it stands, it can take nearly a decade for companies to receive approval to mine for minerals in the United States — five times longer than it takes in countries with comparably stringent environmental safeguards such as Canada and Australia.
Because of these delays, our nation’s share of global investments in metals mining has declined from 21 percent to eight percent in the past twenty years, and our reliance on foreign producers has increased. This means longer waits — and higher costs — for raw material deliveries, as well as a loss of predictability in production timelines.
Fortunately, some in Washington realize the severe consequences of our nation’s lagging mineral production. In September, four members of the Arizona congressional delegation joined the House of Representatives in passing the bi-partisan “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013” (H.R. 761), which would facilitate more efficient development of U.S. mineral resources. Notably, this proposal would not in any way minimize or hinder the environmental review that is an important part of the permitting process. In fact, the legislation encourages better interaction and coordination when multiple agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, are involved in permitting.
High-tech pioneers in Arizona and across the nation need a minerals policy that promotes domestic minerals production rather than hinders it, and H.R. 761 could supply manufacturers with the raw materials they desperately need while buttressing our national security establishment. By revisiting our inefficient permitting process, the United States will not only remain at the helm of global innovation, but will see growing job numbers, a healthier economy and a stronger military. If ever there was an opportunity for bi-partisan cooperation to see Arizona flourish, this is it.
Hal Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association.