"Put simply, without permitting reform it will be impossible to meet our nation’s mineral needs."
Can you give an overview of AEMA’s mission?
AEMA is a national trade association representing the hard rock mining industry, both metal, and non-metal. Based in Spokane, Washington, our diverse membership is in 46 states, seven Canadian provinces, and 10 other countries. We are the recognized national representative for the exploration sector, the junior mining sector, as well as mineral developers interested in maintaining access to public lands. We represent the entire mining life cycle, from exploration to development, operations, reclamation, and closure.
How does AEMA engage at the permitting process level?
Part of our mission is to advocate for the industry and create a business and operating environment in which the mineral industry can succeed. This leads to two areas of focus: Maintaining access to mineral deposits and the ability to permit projects promptly. We must have access to federal public lands in the West to explore and develop mineral resources. Once access to mineral deposits is secured, our focus then becomes the permitting regime. A serious impediment to attracting mineral investment in the US is the lengthy federal permitting process, which takes on average seven to 10 years, but often much longer. AEMA is committed to working with the administration and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to find efficiencies in the permitting process. Put simply, without permitting reform it will be impossible to meet our nation’s mineral needs.
How do you see geopolitics affecting the demand for critical minerals?
Two recent factors highlight the importance of a strong domestic mining industry. First, the pandemic - shortages across many sectors of the economy opened people's eyes to supply chains more broadly. Geopolitical events, in particular the Russian invasion of Ukraine, further solidified people's understanding of not just the importance of a domestic supply chain, but how minerals can be weaponized as part of that supply chain. We also are starting to see greater collaboration with mineral consumers to become more self-reliant. Partly in response to geopolitical events, the current administration has created an interagency working group that is taking a hard look at domestic mining policies. Unfortunately, they are considering policies that would make it more difficult to mine in the US when we need to increase domestic mineral production, so AEMA is heavily engaged in this process to maintain and strengthen the industry's viability.
What is AEMA’s role in helping the industry in getting workers back in the field?
Our members have a difficult time finding skilled workers. Just as important, a lack of workers knowledgeable about mining within our federal government contributes to the inefficient permitting process. AEMA advocates at the federal level for more funding for agencies to be able to hire skilled personnel. Our industry has an aging workforce, so we also have helped develop and support legislation to assist mining schools in further expanding their mineral programs and recruiting students. AEMA also has launched a mentorship program called the AEMA Society to help advance the mining workforce and develop the next generation of industry leaders.
What is your outlook for future exploration projects in Arizona and Nevada?
My outlook remains positive as the mineral demand we are seeing requires that we develop more domestic mineral resources. With hard rock deposits, it is very typical that only one out of 1,000 exploration targets will be developed into a mine. Therefore, extensive exploration activity is required to discover and define economic hard rock deposits that can someday meet our domestic and global mineral demands.
What excites AEMA about the coming few years?
With skyrocketing global mineral demand, we have a tremendous opportunity here in the US to lead the world in responsible mineral production, processing and refining. In the short term, the interagency working group’s final report could be very consequential for the future of the US mining industry. We must start reversing our dangerous reliance on foreign minerals, so I hope to see that they tackle some of the permitting issues, look for ways to incentivize mineral investment in the US, and responsibly develop our own resources. Doing so will significantly contribute to the long-term domestic mineral supply chain that is so desperately needed to secure America’s future.