The importance of minerals to our economy and national securityby Jonathan DuHamel on Oct. 25, 2012, under Energy, Geology, Politics
Without minerals we would not have electricity, food, or shelter. Minerals make today’s technology-based life possible, but that’s something many of us take for granted. We want the benefits from those minerals, but some want mining of minerals to be in somebody else’s neighborhood.
Here in Arizona, which produces about two-thirds of the nations’ domestically mined copper, there is opposition to mining projects such as the Resolution copper/gold mine near Superior, the Rosemont mine near Tucson (see here, here, here and here), Curis Resources’ proposed copper mine near Florence, uranium mining north of the Grand Canyon, and even a small marble deposit near Dragoon.
Let’s step back for a moment and review some benefits and importance of mineral production (data from the National Mining Association, see more detail here).
In 2011, $669 billion worth of processed mineral materials were used by businesses including construction, manufacturing and agriculture to add more than $2.2 trillion to the U.S. economy. Minerals were put to use in lifesaving medical devices, our nation’s infrastructure, defense technologies, and the computers and communications systems that connect us to the world. In Arizona, the value of mineral production is about $8.25 billion.
Though America has abundant mineral resources, our ability to secure these critical materials amid rising global competition is threatened by an outdated permitting process and regulations that delay mining projects for years, in some cases, up to a decade or more. (See Mining and the bureaucracy.)
U.S. minerals mining supports more than 1.2 million jobs. A job in U.S. metal ore mining is one of the highest paying in the private sector, with an average salary of $85,504 a year (2011 average salary) and often climbing above $100,000 for experienced workers.
Our increasingly technological society needs as many as 60 different minerals or their constituent elements that are used in fabricating the high-speed, high-capacity integrated circuits that are crucial to this technology.
Though U.S. mines play an important role in meeting domestic demand for many minerals, American industries currently rely on foreign suppliers for more than half the minerals they use, a substantial increase from 30 years ago. Our growing dependence on imports leaves us vulnerable to supply scarcity brought on by high demand and disruptions in the supply chain. For instance, the U.S. relies on China for 79 percent of rare earth minerals.
The U.S. Department of Defense uses nearly three-quarters of a million tons of minerals every year in the technologies that protect our nation. But with our growing reliance on imports for an ever-widening range of minerals, the United States is now at greater risk of facing supply disruptions.
U.S. mineral production paid more than $16.5 billion in federal taxes and $10.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2010. Although mining operations disturb the local scenery, over 2.6 million acres have been reclaimed and restored in the past 30 years.
Minerals make our standard of living possible. To ensure that standard, we must make certain regulations are consistently guided by sound science and economic reality rather than political agendas.
For those of you who are against mining, I invite you to think of all you would have to give up without it.