President Donald Trump has called for massive infrastructure investments, with proposals ranging from $500 billion to $1.1 trillion. The administration’s infrastructure plan expresses their intent to use American-made materials to rebuild or expand roads, airports, railroads and pipelines.
The U.S. has the engineering expertise, a highly skilled workforce and the technology to undertake this expansive improvement initiative. However, the country is faced with an inadequate supply of domestic steel, especially high-grade molybdenum steel. This shortage presents an exceptional opportunity for Idaho’s molybdenum deposits, particularly the developing CuMo Project in Boise County.
Idaho is rich in molybdenum, a strategic metal used as an alloying agent in steel, cast iron and super alloys to enhance hardening ability, strength, toughness, wear and corrosion resistance. Many of the projects proposed by the administration will require molybdenum-enhanced steel to ensure that they will endure for decades to come.
The world’s demand for molybdenum continues to rise. The International Molybdenum Association estimates that the world will need an additional 200 million pounds annually over the next decade. While the demand for domestic steel increases, the U.S. imports 100 percent of 20 strategic metals and minerals and 50 percent of 30 more.
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The CuMo Project, under the management of Idaho CuMo Mining Corp. (ICMC), is positioned perfectly to lead the nation in closing the gap between the supply and demand. CuMo has the potential to produce 70 million pounds of molybdenum per year for decades, while providing thousands of well-paying jobs in one of the state’s poorest counties. Decades of strategic exploration and environmental studies have demonstrated the CuMo Project to be environmentally safe, an extremely low-cost producer, and a sustainable job source for up to 100 years.
Despite its enormous promise and potential, the permitting process continues to delay CuMo and projects throughout the U.S. ICMC has spent over $3.3 million and 10 years in complying with NEPA regulations and processes, some of which are considered extraordinary and duplicative measures for a project of this type. Clearly, the NEPA process is not working as it was intended.
The U.S. House and Senate have introduced bills (H.R. 520, S. 145) that, should they be signed into law, will require federal agencies to comply with the 30-month permitting timeline for “strategic and critical minerals” mining projects on federal land.
Australia and Canada have already reconciled their high environmental standards and the need to produce domestic sources of strategic minerals and metals. Their mine permitting process takes only two to three years to navigate.
The U.S. must learn to maintain strict regulatory oversight while simultaneously streamlining the permitting process for strategic mineral projects, thus loosening national dependency on foreign sources. National security and the economy will improve immensely with secure and sustainable domestic sources of strategic minerals and metals. The time is now for Congress to act.
Shaun Dykes is president & CEO at Idaho CuMo Mining Corp. (ICMC) and co-author Lisa Anderson is vice president of Government Relations at ICMC.