The drawn-out permitting period for mines in the US is one of the main reasons the country has fallen substantially behind its global competitors in the production and processing of critical minerals, a new report says.
China currently extracts 65% of rare earth elements (REEs), and processes 85%. The US is a distant second in extraction, mining a quarter of the amount of REEs mined in China. It has no REE processing capacity, according to ‘The Mosaic Approach: A Multidimensional Strategy for Strengthening America's Critical Minerals Supply Chain' report from think tank The Wilson Center.
The difference is less stark for other critical minerals, such as lithium and cobalt, but the US does not have a geographic concentration of any of these minerals and remains vulnerable to supply chain dependency.
The report found that the 17-year lag time between mine conception and production in the US has led to most mining investment being put towards existing mines and mining projects, and very little towards exploration.
The US needs to streamline its permitting processes to look more like permitting procedures found in Canada and Australia, where permitting takes on average two years while maintaining the same high-quality standards, the report said.
"The US needs to harmonise regulatory regimes, and eliminate replication," Duncan Wood, one of the report's authors, said in a Nov. 2 briefing.
To slash waiting times for mine approval, the US should consider new legislation that would simplify the procedure, which could help the sector attract more investment and spur growth.
Also inhibiting new US mine development is the fact that only 12% of US territory has been mapped in terms of metal reserves, the report found. The US Geological Survey has estimated that it will take 10 years to fully map the country for minerals, further delaying US production of these minerals.
The Wilson Center report advises the US government to make critical minerals a strategic priority, improving domestic conditions to encourage critical mineral exploration and production.
It also implores the US to build relations with friendly and allied nations to build a supply chain for these minerals in order to challenge Chinese dominance in this area.