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By J. P. Tangen
Special to Mining News 

Suppose we held a party and nobody came?

We cannot simply continue to ignore need to recover abundant critical minerals from our vast public lands on false pretenses North of 60 Mining News – December 1, 2023

 

Last updated 12/14/2023 at 2:59pm

A photo with various buzzwords used in today's energy transition.

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I suspect that almost everyone is familiar with the "word clouds" that are sometimes used by the media to identify issues ostensibly important to the American public.

Pick a subject, and the associated reference appears in the word cloud in a size and typeface that reflects that subject's relative importance. Of course, the rule of "garbage in – garbage out" dominates, so I suppose word clouds are just another fancy way to say nothing.

On the other hand, I was recently impressed by a word cloud offered by NBC News purporting to reflect key issues to the sampled readership because "resource development" wasn't even in the picture.

The, albeit strained, implication is that the American people, as a whole, don't give a rat's tail about resource development.

In no small part, I am sure, that apathy is based on ignorance, and ignorance is a function of in-education. It is said that the two biggest problems in the world today are ignorance and apathy. That may be true, but apparently there are a lot of folks around the country who don't know and don't seem to care either.

Which brings me to critical minerals, of which we have lots in Alaska.

In March of this year, President Biden stepped across the international boundary into Canada for the purpose of discussing the development of critical minerals in Canada to protect our ability to compete internationally with China.

In the meantime, critical mineral development in Alaska continues to be plagued with the endless delays and permitting hurdles imposed by the Biden-Sanders-Warren wing of the Democrat Party. This is not to say that the Republican right is any better, but the real problem is that there is not a popular commitment on either side of the aisle to develop the resources beneath our feet.

To be sure, the U.S. Department of Defense has granted Graphite One Inc. $37.5 million to develop its mining project on the Seward Peninsula. However, that is a small fraction of what the diverse regulatory agencies force major mining companies to expend in order to recover critical minerals in the State.

But this is not a conversation about health or safety. Nor is it a concern about ESG. Everyone in the Alaska mining industry is prepared to support Environmental, Social and Governance concepts on their way to resource development, but the sheer weight of regulatory oversight literally constitutes a significant deterrent for investors to start down a long road that may lead to denial of critical permits.

We should all be able to agree that government needs to work smarter, not harder when it comes to implementing statutory and regulatory mandates.

No one, least of all the undersigned, is heedless of the need to protect the environment or to respect bona fide cultural considerations. Having said that, however, no matter which statute you choose to hang your hat on, it is very clear that laws intended to embrace critical mineral development have been weaponized to block mines in Alaska.

The need for a clear national policy that precipitates the development of Alaska's resources is palpable.

Engineering demands necessarily impose delays in going from a prospect to production, but it is fair to say that once the project is planned out, the bureaucratic delays have only begun.

Few outside the industry recognize that a mine doesn't make any money until it produces a marketable product, and that might take five to ten years alone.

Even after the commencement of production, a mine doesn't make a profit until it pays back its pre-development costs.

While America may lead the world in healthy and safe mines, that accolade means little if new mines cannot produce needed commodities.

Obviously, we need public support for our industry. For those who don't know, we must do a better job (with apologies to the ARE program) educating the nation. For those who just don't care, we should take away their cell phones.

At the end of the day, the word cloud must recognize in large, bold letters that American resource development is entitled to substantial support by the American public.

 

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