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Alaska Critical Minerals Conference: Stakeholders Welcome Progress Thus Far, Call for Federal Permitting Reform and More Predictability in the Mining Space

Just as a new federal law – the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 – may send a much-needed investment signal to the underdeveloped critical mineral supply chains for EVs and other 21st  century technologies, many of which are rife with underinvestment, political risk and poor governance – lawmakers and policy experts gathered for a two-day two-day conference hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in partnership with the Wilson Center and U.S. Arctic Research Commission earlier this week.

Entitled “Alaska’s Minerals: A Strategic National Imperative,” the summit addressed ways in which Alaska’s vast critical mineral potential, which ARPN has frequently pointed to, could be harnessed to diversify America’s critical mineral supply chains.

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan kicked off the proceedings, arguing that Alaska has many of the metals and minerals deemed critical by the U.S. government, while stressing the need for federal permitting changes for Alaska to be able to supply the materials underpinning the sought-after green energy transition.   Said Sen. Murkowski:

“We have the resources. We have resources other states clearly don’t have….  What we need is the ability to be able to access those resources in a way that allows us to be competitive.”

Senator Sullivan looked back to an earlier Critical Minerals summit in Alaska in 2012 – Sullivan was at that time Alaska’s Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources – and cited our ARPN Risk Assessment, a sober reminder that while momentum is building in 2022, it has been a long journey bringing critical minerals into the public consciousness and public policy debate.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, keynoting the event on Tuesday, echoed this sentiment his remarks while highlighting specific projects in the state that could play a vital role in “securing our national security and economic growth by providing the critical minerals needed for the energy transition that we see is well underway.”

While welcoming President Joe Biden’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to spur domestic development of the “battery criticals” – lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese — the governor lamented the Administration’s lack of acknowledgement of Alaska as a potential source of critical minerals for securing U.S. supply chains, along with an earlier Administration decision to suspend a previously granted federal right-of-way for a prominent Alaskan mining project.

Governor Dunleavy added:

“This administration must speak with one voice. It wants critical minerals, or it doesn’t. It wants the lower energy prices, or it doesn’t.  It wants to create jobs in the U.S. or it doesn’t.  It wants to protect the environment or it doesn’t. It cares about human rights, or it doesn’t. (…) The disjointed federal permitting process doesn’t just hurt Alaskans (…), it hurts every industry, and every state. (…) 

If we set ambitious goals for EVs or renewables without permitting the production of critical minerals here, those minerals will still be produced, they just won’t be produced in here in America or Alaska, they’ll be produced by child labor, potentially, they’ll be produced without environmental standards, potentially, they’ll be produced at the expense of the American worker, to the benefit, potentially, of our adversaries.”  

Sen. Murkowski suggested that the federal government take steps to foster “predictability” in the mining sector to unleash the state’s mineral potential, arguing that “other countries” would “in place longer-term policies that allow them to focus on what it means to be sticking with a policy, and a view, and a vision towards dominance.”

ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty, speaking on Monday, also offered his thoughts on the current critical minerals policy discourse.

As a coda to the conference, on the same day the sessions wrapped up, the U.S. Geological Service announced that Alaska will receive more than $6.75 million in funding for geologic mapping, airborne geophysical surveying, and geochemical sampling in support of critical mineral resource studies in the state.

Here’s hoping this is another signal that more positive change is on the way — because, as Senator Sullivan’s reference to our 2012 ARPN Risk Report made clear, while progress has been made, much more remains to be done, and the rest of the world will not wait for us.

For a webcast of Day Two of the event, click here.  (We will update this post once Day One video coverage, which will include McGroarty’s remarks, becomes available as well.)