In what may be a prime example of not being able to see the forest for the trees, Congress has passed, and President Obama has signed legislation allowing for the commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water from the moon and asteroids.
Some compare the move to “visions of the great opening of the United States’ Western frontier in the 19th century,” which preceded the California Gold Rush of 1849. And the law certainly sets the stage for future resource development in space. However, one should note that the commercial exploration of resources in space at this point in time is by no means viable.
Meanwhile, Congress has failed to pass legislation that would facilitate the exploration of domestic mineral resources beneath our own soil, such as Congressman Mark Amodei’s (R-Nev.) National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, for several years in a row.
Rep. Amodei’s bill would streamline the permitting process for mining projects in the U.S., and could help provide our manufacturers with secure access to metals and minerals while reducing the risk of supply disruptions associated with an overreliance on foreign supplies. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives this year, but its fate once again hangs in the balance in the Senate.
The success of similar legislation sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska), the American Mineral Security Act of 2015, which was attached to a broad energy bill sent to the floor earlier this summer, remains equally uncertain, in spite of the fact that a new report underscores the problems associated with the United States’ notoriously slow permitting process.
While it certainly makes sense to look towards the future, lawmakers, in devising policies for space exploration while failing to develop a coherent mineral resource strategy on earth, may be putting the horse before the proverbial cart.