As someone deeply familiar with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s leadership on the “Critical Minerals Policy Act,” John Kemp’s recent Reuters column criticizing the bill struck me as a cynically misguided reaction to her important work. Sen. Murkowski introduced the legislation in order to, as she put it, “keep the United States competitive and begin the process of modernizing our federal mineral policies.” This is a laudable goal and an important process, particularly as our foreign reliance increases for materials needed to build semiconductors, skyscrapers, and everything in between.
In Kemp’s view, however, the bill “deserves to die” because it would authorize new federal funding that he views as a sop to “special interests.” With all due respect, he’s wrong.
Murkowski’s legislation is one of the few examples of real bipartisan cooperation amid the dysfunction of Washington, having attracted nine Republican and nine Democrat co-sponsors.
The Critical Minerals Policy Act takes commonsense steps to facilitate increased mineral production here at home. Importantly, the bill authorizes funding to improve the United States’ permitting process, which industry analysts at Behre Dolbear have ranked as worst in the world at getting applicants a timely “yes” or “no” response. Such delays strand capital and have contributed to an ongoing decline in America’s share of private investment in exploration, which dropped from 10 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2013 according to the SNL Metals Economics Group. In response, the bill brings some needed accountability and resources to the federal agencies considering these permit applications.
The bill also recognizes the importance of geologic surveys, which can jump-start mining activity. The supply chains for mineral commodities begin with entrepreneurial geologists who go out and find this stuff. Sometimes they do it on their own; other times they use government data to get going. Murkowski’s bill places a particular emphasis on the latter, and it should. Up north, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada has found that every public dollar spent on geologic data generates approximately $5 in privately-funded exploration work. That’s a pretty good rate of return, even for those who balk at treating government spending as an investment.