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Raw mineral supply vital to recovery of economy

  • Author: Rebecca Logan
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published May 24, 2011

China's announcement to reduce exports of rare earth minerals has triggered our government and other nations that depend on these critical resources to look within their borders for possible solutions. It also cast light on an underlying problem: the United States lacks a clear strategy to provide the raw materials critical to our economy and national security.

Minerals are the building blocks of the U.S. economy and the foundation for an innovative and secure future. The United States has an estimated $6.2 trillion worth of key non-fuel minerals within our borders, representing tremendous potential to create a healthier economy.

While the downturn in the economy has forced many sectors to freeze hiring, U.S. mining did just the opposite. In fact, it added approximately 1,800 U.S. jobs each month in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In total, non-fuel minerals mining supports more than 1.1 million jobs, including vendors and suppliers to mining operations.

Mining has a rich history in Alaska, and presents an even brighter future. Mining has more than 3,500 skilled, well-paying, direct jobs -- often in rural areas, where few other jobs are available, according to the Alaska Miners Association. In 2010, mining generated $58.9 million in state revenues through royalties, rents, fees, and taxes and paid $145.9 million to Alaska Native Corporations. And that is from an industry that has only six large mines.

Minerals like zinc, gold, lead, and silver mined in Alaska are used by nearly every business in America and give life to the innovative technologies that propel our economy and secure our nation. Last year, minerals utilized by the manufacturing, technology and construction industries, among others, created products and services that added more than $2 trillion to the economy -- roughly 14 percent of GDP. In fact, the U.S. manufacturing sector, which accounts for one-fifth of total global output, depends on American mines for approximately half of its mineral needs and foreign sources for the other half. However, U.S. manufacturing is 100 percent dependent on foreign sources for at least 19 critical minerals, including the rare earth minerals.

It's no surprise that Sen. Lisa Murkowski is one leader who understands the economic potential of minerals available within the United States and is doing something about it. Last month she unveiled a draft bill designed to strengthen our nation's minerals supply chain and help improve U.S. competitiveness.

Sen. Murkowski's bill offers policy prescriptions to address inefficient permitting process and regulatory uncertainty, hurdles that have deterred investments in U.S. mining, while at the same time investments have soared in other parts of the world. If we want to create jobs, strengthen national security and build an innovative future, we must become more self-reliant on our domestic mineral resources. It's time we safely develop our own minerals and meet more of our own needs.

The sooner our leaders realize a stable minerals supply directly impacts what Americans care about most -- jobs, economic growth and national security -- the faster we can move our country forward. Proposals like Sen. Murkowski's that encourage revitalizing the nation's domestic minerals supply is a practical way to boost employment and help meet our nation's growing mineral needs.

Rebecca Logan is general manager of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance.

By REBECCA LOGAN

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