In testimony this week before U.S. House and Senate natural resources committees, the National Mining Association (NMA) General Counsel Katie Sweeney and Hecla Mining Co. Vice President of External Affairs Luke Russell reminded members of Congress that domestic metals and minerals are not only the front-end of the supply chain for countless industries but are also vital to the success of rebuilding American infrastructure.

Before the House Natural Resources Committee, Sweeney warned against “unwise and unwarranted mineral withdrawals” that ignore the vast sectors of the American economy that depend upon a reliable and secure supply chain of minerals and metals.

Sweeney said withdrawing massive acreage of mineral-rich federal land threatens supplies of minerals and metals that are important to the nation’s economy and encouraged streamlining the permitting process to allow timely access to these valuable resources. This is an important policy priority, she said, because federal lands account for as much as 86% of the land area in Western states that account for 75% of the nation’s metals production.

“The materials produced by U.S. mining support our manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, communication, energy and national defense sectors and many others,” Sweeney said. “They are the integral building blocks of everyday items like cell phones, laptops and cars, as well as infrastructure and lifesaving medical devices.”

At a similar hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to examine permitting processes, Russell explained that not only are metals and minerals direct inputs into infrastructure, they are also integral to the manufactured product components like structural beams, construction pipes and electrical wiring that support infrastructure projects. Due to their indispensable nature to nearly every industry, streamlining the permitting processes — which can currently take between seven and 10 years — should be a priority.  

The testimony from mining executives raised congressional awareness of the nation’s increasing reliance on foreign sources of minerals and metals. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. is now import-dependent for 50 key metals and minerals — and completely dependent for 20 others. Less than half of the minerals U.S. manufacturers need are sourced domestically, despite the nation’s abundant mineral endowment.