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U.S. Senators Nudge National Science Foundation on Funding for Mining Engineering

As demand for critical minerals continues to surge against the backdrop of the accelerating push towards net zero carbon emissions and supply chain challenges in the face of growing geopolitical volatility, the United States has taken several important steps to strengthen U.S. domestic critical mineral supply chains.

Sometimes the obvious can be overlooked:  As a case in point, consider the human resources required to unlock the natural resources needed to power 21st Century technologies.  Is the U.S. doing what it must to excite, encourage and educate the next generation of geologists, metallurgists, engineers, materials scientists and the many other disciplines involved in extracting and processing critical minerals?

While much of the Congressional effort has focused on the exploration, development and recycling of critical minerals, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-167) (CHIPS Law) contains a provision making funding available to bolster the mining workforce.

Late last month, U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-Nev) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) sent a letter to U.S. National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan requesting an update on what steps the National Science Foundation (NSF) has taken to implement Section 10359 of the CHIPS Act, the inclusion of which the senators had secured at the time of the law’s passage.

The senators lament that estimated enrollment at the 14 mining schools currently accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. has rapidly declined from almost 1,500 in 2015 to just under 600 students today, with only roughly 200 students anticipated to graduate with Bachelor of Science degrees in mining engineering from U.S. schools this year.

Section 10359 of the CHIPS Act directed NSF to offer funding to universities and nonprofit organizations to “grow the next generation of mining engineers and support research and innovations that will improve mining technologies, reducing our reliance on China and other adversaries for critical minerals and materials.” 

Write the senators:

“To ensure the United States is able to innovate and compete on a global scale, we must recruit, educate, train, and develop tomorrow’s workforce today, providing them the tools they need to meet the challenge of developing a secure domestic resource supply chain that will strengthen our nation’s future economic and national security. (…)

It is critical that the NSF swiftly implement Sec. 10359, so that the U.S. remains competitive with a strong, skilled, and adaptive workforce to meet the needs of the modern mining industry.”

The senators are “are eager to learn what steps the National Science Foundation (NSF) has taken to implement this provision and engage with communities across the country on available opportunities,” and request an update by Director Panchanathan by January 12, 2024.  ARPN will be sure to keep tabs on NSF’s response, and on the broader effort to encourage the cultivation of the human resources needed to develop the Nation’s natural resources for decades to come.