Kicking off the COP26 climate conference, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres claimed, “We are digging our own graves,” through a number of actions, including drilling and mining.
What Guterres and others willfully omit is the fact that we need mining in order to tackle our climate challenges. Mining is not simply a tool to help achieve climate goals — it is a requirement.
Americans and the environment lose when we depend on foreign countries for our mineral requirements. It makes absolutely no sense to create mining jobs elsewhere and import minerals from countries with lower environmental and safety standards. Net-zero carbon aspirations demand that we minimize the carbon footprint of our minerals by getting them from domestic mines.
Mining and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive: We can be pro-mining while also being pro-environment. The United States must lead the world by exporting our safe, responsible mining practices and ensuring the global community recognizes the abuses that persist in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Venezuela, and others, and we must stop those abuses from continuing.
We can do so by digging our own future.
The U.S. is home to one of the world’s leading mineral reserves, and many of the minerals we import are available here at home. We also have some of the most stringent environmental and labor standards around the world. Not only that, but the miners who operate in the U.S. are proud of the work they do, the contributions they make to their local communities, and the benefits they provide to the country as a whole.
Metallic minerals mining supports 1.4 million jobs in the U.S. Jobs in U.S. minerals mining pay an average salary of $95,000 while adding nearly $3 trillion to the U.S. economy.
Clean energy technologies coming out of the U.S. remain competitive on the global stage, but the biggest challenge to maintaining our leadership position is the lack of investment in raw materials and their supply chains.
From copper and nickel to silver and lithium, a wide range of minerals are absolutely essential to produce the building blocks of our nation’s future energy needs, and demand is growing. In fact, it is skyrocketing.
The World Bank Group estimates minerals production demands could increase by nearly 500% or more by 2050, while the Center for Strategic and International Studies has cited a 1,000% jump.
If we are serious about a clean energy future and truly want to increase our deployment of clean energy technologies and production of electric vehicles, our domestic mining efforts must increase.
Unfortunately, on average, it takes 10 years for a mine to go from discovery to production in the U.S. That’s longer than it took to build the Hoover Dam, the U.S. Capitol building, and the entire transcontinental railroad. Meanwhile, countries such as Australia and Canada, which have similar environmental standards to the U.S., can complete the process in two to three years.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. remains 100% dependent on imports for 17 key mineral resources and more than 50% dependent on imports for another 29 mineral commodities. Of the 35 mineral commodities noted as essential for U.S. economic and national security, China is the top producer or top supplier for 23 of them. China also controls the manufacturing of technologies that depend on them, such as solar panels and lithium-ion batteries.
Too many of our nation’s leaders are currently failing to focus on the need for domestic manufacturing of electrification technologies, as well as where to source the materials to build these facilities and products.
And on the world stage at COP26, there’s a willingness to disregard the need for mining to tackle climate change and a lack of accountability for countries that commit unforgivable human rights abuses in order to supply countries with the minerals needed to achieve Western climate goals.
To be clear: We need mining if we are going to tackle our climate challenges. We need mining if we are going to usher in a clean energy future, and we need to do it the American way: safely, cleanly, and responsibly. America’s leaders must make this message clear on the world stage, and we cannot let the anti-mining fervor distract or mislead from our goals.
Dan Newhouse represents Washington's 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves as the chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus. Mark Compton is the executive director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, located in Spokane Valley, Washington.