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Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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Interview: AEMA’s Laura Skaer – The Mining Industry’s Challenges and a Look Ahead

For the last few months, politics has sucked up much of the oxygen in Washington, DC and around the country.  With the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States behind us, many of us are hopeful that the time has come to finally shift the focus away from politics toward policy.

Against the backdrop of the change of Administrations, our friend Laura Skaer, Executive Director of the American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA), (formerly Northwest Mining Association), shared her views on the many challenges that have been facing mining industry, as well her organization’s policy priorities going forward, in an interview with Outsider Club.

According to Skaer, an issue that has and will continue to range high on the agenda is a proposed set of new financial assurance requirements for owners and operators of certain hard rock mining operations. The EPA’s proposal, which was dropped last year, would not only preempt state authority, it would duplicate the responsibilities of other federal agencies, dealing a potentially devastating blow to mining companies, as ARPN Principal Daniel McGroarty outlined in a widely publicized op-ed last summer.

Meanwhile, this rule was one of numerous policy changes “designed to make it more difficult to access mineral deposits, make permitting more difficult, put more lands off limits and withdraw lands from exploration” under the outgoing Administration.    

With the changing of the guard, policy makers and administrators may likely take a fresh look at these policies. Legislation to streamline our nation’s onerous permitting system, which already came close to passing only to fizzle when the effort to pass a comprehensive energy bill lost steam towards the end of last year, likely stands a better chance of passing Congress and receiving the president’s signature this year.

Says Skaer:

“If Canada can do it in two to three years, to the same environmental and engineering standards that we have in the United States, there’s no reason why the United States can’t get mines permitted in the same amount of time. And we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get that.” 

Another area in which she believes we may see some changes, revolves around salary reviews for federal employees working in agencies involved in mineral resource policy. These currently do not include performance indicators for an employee’s work on mineral projects – and as Skaer argues:

“If you’ve got these projects like mining projects or exploration projects that aren’t part of your grade, well, they’re naturally going to fall to the bottom of the pile. That’s one thing we can do that won’t require Congress.”

In today’s high-tech world, old paradigms have shifted. Irrespective of where you come down on the political spectrum, the mineral resource policy challenges we face as a nation – including our over-reliance on foreign metals and minerals – have only grown over time, and warrant a response.  Thankfully, we can tap into vast mineral riches beneath our own soil. If and how we unlock our mineral resource potential will significantly impact our competitiveness and national security going forward.

The next few months will see a vigorous debate in Washington on the best ways to revive manufacturing, re-shore American businesses, strengthen our technological competitiveness and restore vital defense capabilities.  At ARPN, we’ll watch closely to see if resource development is recognized as a common root for all of these pressing policy issues.

To read the full interview with Laura Skaer click here