- - Thursday, November 22, 2012

As people head out to the store this Black Friday, one item on many shopping lists is certain to be “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” This recently released and wildly popular video game features a chilling scenario: a new Cold War between China and the United States has erupted, spurred by a ban on Chinese exports of rare earth minerals. While this may sound like video game fantasy, U.S. minerals security and supply stability is a real and pressing issue that impacts U.S. manufacturing, economic growth and national security.

Currently responsible for more than 95 percent of the global supply, China has an undisputed monopoly on production of rare earth minerals — resources essential to the innovation and manufacturing of advanced-energy, consumer and defense technologies, including wind turbines, night-vision goggles and satellite positioning systems. As we saw this past spring, when President Obama filed a challenge with the World Trade Organization against China’s export restrictions on important minerals for the second time in recent years, minerals supplies are subject to intense geopolitical instability.

China’s edge on the minerals market goes beyond rare earth minerals. The country ranks as the world’s leading producer of more than 80 percent of mineral commodities, such as tungsten, a mineral used in incandescent light bulbs and CAT scans. While China maintains its stranglehold on a variety of in-demand minerals, the United States remains 100 percent import-reliant for 19 key minerals, importing more than $155 billion worth of minerals in 2011 alone.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study conducted the same year, 78 percent of CEOs in the high-tech industry are concerned about minerals scarcity and its impact on manufacturing; 73 percent of CEOs in the automotive industry and 67 percent of CEOs in the renewable energy industry share concern. Unable to obtain sufficient supplies of domestic resources, U.S. companies are now forced to depend on expensive, unreliable supplies of minerals from foreign countries for more than half of their manufacturing needs.

As millions across the globe rely on technologies fabricated from minerals, developed and emerging countries alike are jockeying to secure these vital resources. Despite vast mineral wealth in the United States, our acquisitions are shackled to an outdated, muddled permitting process, which can require a staggering seven to 10 years for approval of just one mine. This is precious time that costs our nation valuable jobs and discourages companies from investing here. In fact, a report issued by Behre Dohlbear in March underlined the startling reality of this issue, ranking the United States as 20th in a list of the top 25 countries for mining investment.

This loss of investment and the resulting lack of minerals development have delivered a blow to our economy and global competitiveness. While the United States’ share of global metals mining investment has fallen from a respectable 21 percent in 1993 to just 8 percent today, the World Economic Forum also revealed in September that the United States has, for the fourth year in a row, dropped in a ranking of the world’s most competitive economies — now residing in seventh place.

We don’t have to continue on this path of decline. With the United States housing $6.2 trillion worth of key mineral resources, the solution is right under our feet. By investing in American manufacturing and minerals mining, and passing sensible policies to support these two crucial industries, we can continue rebuilding America’s economy. These two industries have the potential to grow exponentially and contribute vastly to our growth on the world stage.

To unleash this potential, we must revise our outdated permitting process and replace it with policies that promote the safe and efficient production of U.S. minerals resources. For examples, we need only to look toward countries such as Canada and Australia — whose permits for new mines are issued in a fraction of the time, despite having environmental regulations comparable to those in the United States. By addressing this issue, we can pave the way to more jobs, build a stronger economy and bolster American manufacturing — while avoiding a domestic disaster of video game proportions.

Hal Quinn is president of the National Mining Association. Michael Silver is president of American Elements, a manufacturer of engineered and advanced materials.

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