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Mining Trade Groups Call For Revival Of The Bureau Of Mines


July 8, 2024 - As the demand for critical minerals such as lithium and copper surges, mining trade groups in the U.S. advocate for the revival of the long-defunct Bureau of Mines.

This initiative coincides with the supply of critical minerals becoming a matter of national security.

USBM Background: The U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) was established on July 1, 1910, under the Department of the Interior. Its primary mission was to ensure the nation had adequate supplies of nonfuel minerals for security and other needs. The Bureau conducted research on the extraction, processing, use and recycling of nonfuel mineral resources while minimizing environmental harm and protecting workers. It also collected and published statistical and economic information on all nonfuel mineral resource development phases. 

However, in 1996, during a period of budget cuts, the USBM was closed down. Its $152-million annual budget (equivalent to $304 million in 2024) was eliminated as part of a budget deal resolution after the conflict between Republicans and then-President Bill Clinton. That decision was not without negative backlash, as critics felt the nation was downsizing scientific research and funding.

Over two decades later, the situation in the domestic mining sector is complicated, hindering back the progress with permits for extraction and exploration.

Time to Bring Back USBM? Today, some agencies are campaigning to bring USBM back, according to three sources who spoke to Reuters, confirming the campaign would start later this month.

"Mining decisions right now are spread across multiple government agencies, and that makes transparency and accountability very difficult,” said Rich Nolan, head of the National Mining Association. His agency leads the initiative alongside the American Exploration & Mining Association and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME).

Trade groups argue that a revived bureau could provide a unified approach to critical minerals policy, encompassing permitting, research funding and industry grants. Despite the push, trade groups acknowledge that success is unlikely before the next Congress assembly, which will run from 2025 to 2027.

“If a new bureau could bring some efficiency to a duplicative and inefficient permitting process, it could be a huge benefit to the country,” added Mitch Krebs, CEO of Coeur Mining Inc (NYSE:CDE).

Still, not everyone agrees that reviving the bureau will resolve the industry's problems. Dr. Michelle Michot Foss, a fellow in energy, minerals, and materials at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, expressed skepticism toward such a decision.

“The Bureau of Mines coming back into existence is not going to fix any of that. There’s nothing serious on the table that would make the mining industry function better than it is now,” she stated.

Whether the initiative is successful or not, the state of the U.S. mining sector will provide another source of political discussion in the election year.