Between mining 40 percent of the nation’s coal and unearthing bentonite key to natural gas extraction, Wyoming mining has long been a driving force of U.S. energy development and our nation’s push toward energy independence.
Now, with uranium in demand and news that Wyoming is home to significant deposits of rare earth minerals (essential to advanced energy technologies), we have the opportunity to further enhance our nation’s energy mix and reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers. This also means we can add to the roughly 10,000 Wyoming jobs already supported by mining — as long as proposals threatening domestic mining are defeated.
In the United States, we rely on uranium for nuclear energy, which provides 20 percent of the country’s electricity. U.S. power plants need 50 million pounds of uranium per year, and yet only 4 million are produced domestically, with 2 million coming from Wyoming. But we could be producing more — as much as 10 million pounds per year given that our state is home to the country’s largest uranium reserves.
We may soon lay claim to the country’s largest rare earth minerals mine, as well. One company planning to develop a rare earths deposit in Crook County estimates that it can produce 11,400 tons every year for 15 years. These minerals are vital to next-generation energy technologies such as electric vehicle batteries and permanent magnets used in wind turbines, which can contain more than 700 pounds of rare earth minerals. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that global demand for rare earths could substantially increase with the deployment of these technologies.
Given our abundant mineral resources in Wyoming and across the country, we should be fully utilizing them to spur technological innovation, meet growing energy demands, reduce our dependence on foreign fuel suppliers and create jobs.
So it may come as a shock that the United States imports approximately 90 percent of the uranium it needs, and last year, was 100 percent import-reliant for rare earths.
This dependence is due in part to an outdated, inefficient mining permitting process that can delay projects for up to ten years, discouraging investors from developing U.S. deposits and sending mining jobs overseas.
And U.S. mining could soon face another major challenge: A bill (H.R. 3446) has been introduced in the House that proposes a 12.5 percent gross royalty tax on the mining of locatable minerals on federal lands — the highest tax of its kind in the world. This bill would only fuel our reliance on foreign resources, while denying our state the jobs and economic benefits mining brings.
Faced with these threats, our policymakers must follow the example set by Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, co-sponsors of the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011; and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, co-sponsor of the Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act. Both bills advocate a review of the mining permitting process to identify areas where it could be made more efficient; a change that could result in our nation meeting more of its mineral needs — and energy needs — domestically.
Wyoming is at a crossroads. We have the opportunity to help support energy independence and innovative energy technologies through the production of minerals. We must call upon our leaders to fight against excessive taxes that penalize safe and responsible minerals mining.