Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced legislation to speed up the review process for mineral mining on federal land, as demand for Alaska’s metals and rare earth minerals surges.
Sen. Dan Sullivan is among eight co-sponsors of the bill, which aims to reduce U.S. reliance on imports from China for critical minerals and metals used in smart technology and renewable energy, from solar panels to cell phones.
“America’s reliance on foreign countries for the production and recycling of our critical minerals is a vulnerability to our national security, a disadvantage to our economy, and a hindrance to our global competitiveness,” Murkowski said when she introduced the Senate bill last week.
The legislation was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for a hearing. It would “improve the quality and timeliness of federal permitting and review processes with respect to critical mineral production on federal land, and for other purposes,” according to the legislation.
Murkowski described the existing federal permitting and review process as “painfully inefficient” and a “major deterrent” for producers, refiners and recyclers.
The U.S. permitting process for mineral production is among the longest in the world, Murkowski said, describing it as a threat to the nation’s economy and security.
The new legislation would:
• Improve the process for applications, operating plans, leases, licenses, permits and other authorizations for critical mineral-related activities on federal land.
• Create “quantifiable permitting performance goals” and track progress toward those goals.
• Involve agencies, stakeholders, projects sponsors and state, local and tribal governments to resolve concerns.
• Make the review process more efficient, cost-effective and timely.
Alaska's potential for supplying renewables, EVs
Alaska represents a major resource for minerals and rare-earth metals needed in new technologies, including tin, lithium, cobalt and graphite.
“Alaska has the potential to offer a sustainable and secure supply to meet the coming explosive demand for the minerals and metals crucial to the renewable energy and electric vehicle sectors,” Shane Lasley, publisher of Mining News, reported in March.
But the mining industry needs to have a more efficient permitting and review process to meet demand by the marketplace in the U.S. and abroad, according to Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“By improving the permitting processes we have in place, we are creating a greater opportunity for America to rebuild a robust domestic critical minerals supply chain,” Murkowski said.
Sullivan said that it is essential for the U.S. to increase mineral production to supply industries for technology and renewables, instead of allowing China to control the expanding global market.
“It is outrageous that we have allowed China to dominate the production and processing of these minerals, and it’s a threat to our economy and to our national security,” Sullivan said.
It is time for the U.S. to “bring home” critical mineral production and “create good-paying jobs,” Sullivan said.
“From computers and batteries, to building materials and other consumer products, we must ensure that Alaska is leading the way,” Rep. Don Young said.
New market opportunities for minerals
Alaska’s mining industry agrees.
The state already leads in U.S. zinc production and is a major source for gold, sand, gravel, crushed stone, lead and silver.
Mining News, an industry publication, reports that there are new market opportunities for “low-carbon energy and electric mobility.”
Electric vehicle production, for example, requires up to 20 minerals in the manufacturing of EV batteries, including cobalt, lithium, nickel and other rare earth metals.
The news publication quoted GM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl, as evidence of interest in and demand for a robust domestic supply of critical minerals and rare earths for the growing EV market:
“There are moments in history when everything changes. Inflection points. We believe such a point is upon us for the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Unlike ever before, we have the solutions, capability, technology and scale to put everyone in an EV.”
GM plans to have 30 new EV models in showrooms by 2025.
Metals and rare-earth minerals in Interior Alaska
A mining area of immediate interest in Interior Alaska includes tin deposits, along with rare earth minerals, north of the Yukon River. Tin is used in high-tech hardware and electric vehicles.
“Ray Mountains, which is about 40 miles north of the community of Tanana, is an area rich in placer tin, rare earths, and other critical minerals,” Mining News reports.
Ambler Metals is investing in “pre-development activities” for a proposed access road to the metal-rich Ambler Mining District in northwest Alaska, according to Mining News reports. The company is awaiting a decision on the 211-mile Ambler Road, which would allow for transporting minerals to the railhead at Fairbanks.
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority would fund construction and collect tolls to recoup costs and cover maintenance.
Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.