The challenge facing the nation is arguably without precedent. The health crisis posed by COVID-19 must be our first priority, but we must also in tandem tend to the economic upheaval wrought by the virus and the steps that must be taken to combat it.
Every industry will feel the impacts of this evolving and immensely challenging situation. The mining industry is no different. As our lawmakers move quickly to map out their response – both in the actions taken to slow and stop the spread of the virus and also those to support the financial wellbeing of average Americans as well as entire industries – it’s essential that mining is given prominence.
America’s mines and miners provide the materials that are the building blocks for nearly everything we rely upon, from essential medical devices, and anti-microbial hospital surfaces to fighter jets, essential telecommunications and smart phones. Mining also provides the coal that it is the foundation for the nation’s electricity grid, ensuring a reliable, balanced, affordable supply of power.
From hardrock mines producing copper, gold, uranium or silver to the nation’s coal mines producing the fuel to keep the lights on, mining is an absolutely critical industry that needs both flexibility and support in this unique moment to ensure it can weather the storm and come out the other side even stronger.
Mining is a named component of the two of the critical infrastructure sectors designated by the federal government: the energy sector and the critical manufacturing sector. As such the industry must be provided the flexibility to keep mines operating and maintained during the months ahead. Even as elected officials make the painful but necessary decisions to close schools and businesses and keep people home, we must keep some essential industries open and running. Mining and its support industries must be allowed the flexibility to continue operating in these difficult circumstances.
We must think thoughtfully and holistically about all the interconnected pieces of the supply chain that allow minerals and fuel to move from mine to market. For example, coal needs operating railroads and barges to ensure production can get to power plants. It will not be an easy task balancing public health concerns with the necessity of keeping the country moving forward but it’s essential we get this right.
Support for the industry and mining communities can come in many forms but where government can ease the financial and regulatory burden on the industry while upholding the highest environmental and safety standards, it should. Commonsense steps to reduce or defer taxes and royalties, move forward on long-overdue permitting reform and encourage ready access to credit will help the industry keep miners employed in the near and mid-term and hit the ground running once the crisis has passed.
As borders have closed and global supply chains have faced interruption, the often-overlooked value of domestic industry is coming into focus. It’s imperative that this test not force the further erosion of American industry – including mining – but rather serve as the moment we came together to rebuild and re-shore our industrial base.
Smart government action now to back the industry during this crisis will help keep the more than 1.5 million Americans supported by mining employed and lay the foundation for a mining renaissance than can ensure affordable and reliable power when we need it and help rebuild the infrastructure and manufacturing supply chains we know we will need. Simply put, mining is more important to our energy and technology futures than ever before. Smart policy in the challenging days ahead will recognize it as such.
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- On March 20, 2020