Can you introduce the AEMA and explain the association's mission and scope?
The AEMA is a national industry trade association representing the hard rock mining industry, based in Spokane, Washington. We work closely with the National Mining Association and have many of the same members which include large producing mining companies. However, what distinguishes us is that our heart and soul is the exploration and development sector of the industry. While we currently have members in 44 States, most of them operate on public lands in the western US. Therefore, an important focus of our association is maintaining access to public lands for responsible mineral resource development.
How did the pandemic affect exploration and mining activities in Nevada and other US States?
The pandemic undoubtedly affected the US mining industry, but its impact was limited, since operations were allowed to continue in Nevada and in many other States where the sector was declared essential. Mining was also better prepared for a pandemic-like situation than most industries, mainly due to its global nature. Many of our members that operate across the globe had experienced similar challenges before. In addition, health and safety is more than just a priority within the mining industry. It is a core value and a culture, which allowed the sector to be very well positioned to deal with the pandemic.
To what can we attribute the recent increase in exploration activities in the US?
Mineral demand is skyrocketing as a result of the priorities of the current President and his administration, many in congress, as well as the global interest to address climate change. In this context, companies invest their exploration dollars, firstly, where the mineral resources exist, but also where they can operate efficiently and successfully. The US has proven to be one of these places, and especially Nevada, which was ranked as the most attractive jurisdiction in the world for mining investment by the Fraser Institute.
What role can Nevada play in building a domestic supply chain for critical minerals?
Nevada, like several other jurisdictions in the US, has fantastic potential to secure the domestic supply chain of critical minerals in the US because it has an unmatched mineral endowment and is composed overwhelmingly by public lands. The demand for critical minerals to accomplish some of the current administration’s objectives are astounding, so it will be necessary to look at areas where those mineral resources can be responsibly developed. With the worker protection laws and the environmental regulations that exist in the US, we can mine more responsibly than anywhere in the world.
What are the main challenges currently affecting mining and exploration?
One of the great challenges is making the general public aware of the connection between mining and people’s lifestyles. The industry is also often considered old-fashioned and detrimental to the environment, which could not be further from the truth; while ESG issues used to be part of mining companies’ business model, today they are part of their culture. Companies make great efforts to be good community partners, and today they face the important challenge of developing and maintaining their social license to operate.
Another important challenge involves ensuring access to mineral deposits, as today, there is legislation that could severely inhibit the ability to access public lands for exploration. Without access to public lands for exploration, economically viable deposits cannot be discovered and there will be no future mine to provide the corresponding economic and societal benefits, including securing the domestic supply chain. Nevada, specifically, is a large public lands State, and approximately half of all federal public lands are either off-limits or severely restricted to mining. Since we don’t get to choose where minerals are, it is important to maintain public land access for mineral exploration and development.
If we are able to access mineral deposits, the ability to permit mining projects in a timely manner becomes a critical component to attract mining investment in Nevada and in the US. Therefore, a major focus of our association is creating a more efficient permitting system to improve the competitiveness of the domestic mining industry. Doing so will spur job creation and decrease our reliance on foreign sources of the minerals needed for virtually every sector of our economy including infrastructure, healthcare, renewable energy, and all types of manufacturing.