QuickHit: U.S. mining operations and supply chain security
In this QuickHit episode, we are joined by Jerry Mullins the Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and External Relations for the National Mining Association. In this episode we explore U.S. mining operations in the height of the pandemic. We take a look at the industry’s serious concern about supply chain security. We also talked about rare earths and how the U.S. miners are contributing to the global green economy.
The National Mining Association is the voice of mining in Washington, D.C. with the administration, with Congress, and different agencies. The focus of the organization is to grow domestic mining in the United States and highlight the most significant and timely issues that impact mining’s ability to safely and sustainably locate, permit, mine, transport and utilize the nation’s vast resources .
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TN: From your perspective, looking at what happened in mining during COVID and post COVID, what did mining firms see around continuity of operations and the risks there? Also, what did mining clients find with supply chain continuity? That’s a real question and that’s something we saw a lot of issues around as countries like Peru and others just completely shut down.
JM: Fortunately, domestic mining in United States was deemed an essential industry, and so it was allowed to continue to operate. That’s really important to recognize. As an industry, it had the ability to absorb the different environment that a pandemic brought on, and companies were allowed to successfully operate. These companies were able to continue to produce the raw materials that were needed for multiple industries across the globe.
As far as the effects of other countries and how they were affected, when you think about the global economies that generally slowed down, a lot of folks hit a pause. Economies had to re-calibrate exactly what they were able to do and the best way to do it. The domestic mining in the United States played a real critical role in leadership of showing the nation how to continue to work forward safely and effectively.
TN: With the supply chain disruptions and some of the geopolitical issues, there is a real sense in the US that there may be some supply chain security issues around metals and minerals. Can you help us with that? What is the Association doing?
JM: That’s an interesting point you bring up about the security issue. Just last month, the National Mining Association conducted a poll and 64% of the respondents said they were concerned about the supply chain dynamics and how reliant the U.S. was on international supplies of different critical minerals.
You’ve seen a real zest of excitement and certainly interest in focusing on the ability for U.S. producers to fill that gap and make sure that those critical minerals that are needed can be produced in the United States. [This means] addressing some of the permitting challenges that domestic mining faces and finding ways to more effectively allow for U.S. mining to meet a lot of demand that exists.
TN: When you talk about things like permitting and we talk about supply chain risk, one of the big kind of things that flag up is rare earths. Can we talk a little bit about rare earths and understand for the U.S. electronic sector and Department of Defense and others? What are some of the things that you’re thinking about and your observations about rare earths in the U.S. and the exposure to rare earths from other places?
JM: Well, certainly the Department of Defense relies on 750,000 tons of minerals each year. That’s for everything from armor for the individual soldier, to armor on a tank, to different requirements for jet engines to telecommunications. When you think about everything from palladium to copper to gold and silver–some rare–some not as rare. But those necessities are real. There’s an opportunity for tremendous growth in the rare earth field in this country. It is really opening up, and that’s something that international investors as well as domestic investors are starting to recognize.
TN: One of the other things we hear quite a lot about is the green economy — electric vehicles, battery technology. We hear a lot about those technologies accelerating in other locations and maybe the U.S. has to catch up or there are minerals from other places that the U.S. may or may not produce. How do you see U.S. miners contributing to the green economy and battery technology and electric vehicles and that whole section of the economy?
JM: When you talk about battery technology and when you talk about the electrification of the auto fleet, what you’re talking about is copper. And you’re talking about mass needs of copper, mass needs of gold, mass needs of silver, and be able to satisfy the requirements. If you look at the wind technology and the coking steel that’s going to be required, the coking coal for making steel that’s going to be required, these are needed to achieve the goals that have been put out there. The American miner is absolutely part of of that future.
TN: Great. Perfect. Jerry, thanks so much for taking your time today. I really appreciate this and I look forward to speaking again as we see all of the supply chain issues with COVID and post-COVID. It’ll be really interesting to reconnect and hear some of your thoughts at that point.
JM: Thank you, Tony. I look forward to it.