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Public Statements

Issue Position: Mining

Issue Position

Location: Unknown

Even in these trying economic times, Alaska's minerals industry is a bright spot for our state. Alaska is rich in a wide variety of hard rock and rare-earth minerals. The development of which are as important to our economy today as they were during the first Gold Rush.

Exploration and development expenditures by the Alaska mining industry in 2009 surpassed $3 billion for the fourth year in a row. Mining now employs more than 4,000 people statewide. Perhaps even more importantly, mining jobs on average pay some of the highest wages in the state, second only to segments of the petroleum industry.

America's increasing dependence on foreign sources of minerals, including the raw materials necessary to develop a robust renewable energy industry, must be reversed before we become as dependent on other countries for mineral raw materials as we are for petroleum products. We need mining reform that reduces burdensome bureaucratic red tape, reduces excessive federal taxes and fees and prevents unnecessary federal land lockups.

It's essential that we promote environmentally responsible mineral development. Alaska, which is second in gold production only to Nevada, has its share of minerals wealth to contribute, including silver, copper, zinc, rare-earth elements and molybdenum.

Although the United States owns at least 15 percent of the world's rare-earth element reserves, we are 100 percent dependent upon imports for rare-earth elements, oxides and alloys. In fact, 97 percent of all rare-earth elements for world consumption are produced in China.

We import 100 percent of the quartz crystal used in photovoltaic solar panels, the indium used in LED lighting and the rare-earth metals used in batteries and permanent magnets. A large wind turbine can contain more than 1 ton of rare-earth elements -- in addition to more than 300 tons of steel, nearly 5 tons of copper and 3 tons of aluminum.

It doesn't need to be this way. A rare-earth minerals deposit at Bokan Mountain on Prince of Wales Island, south of Ketchikan, could provide a domestic supply of these increasingly vital elements.

We must do more to develop a domestic rare-earth element industry. In 2009, I launched an effort to encourage the domestic production of heavy rare-earth elements, and have introduced legislation to provide loans and aid to get rare-earth elements supply chain underway. In 2004, I succeeded in getting the Alaska Land Acceleration Act signed into law. The act speeds up the land conveyances the state of Alaska and Alaska Native corporations were promised at statehood. Finalizing title to these lands will provide certainty of land ownership, help the mineral industry in their exploration decisions and lead to more mining opportunities.

Over the years, I have pushed for infrastructure development, road construction and power interties to help reduce the development costs of mining projects. I also encouraged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with a final tailing permit for the Kensington gold mine near Juneau following the 2009 Supreme Court decision in favor of development. The Corps of Engineers granted that permit, allowing the mine to advance to production in September of that year.

Looking forward, I will continue to support an extension of the Alaska Railroad to the Canadian Border -- an expansion of our transportation infrastructure that would make a number of mineral developments economically feasible by providing easier access to markets.

I expect future efforts to reform the Mining Law of 1872. I will work to keep control over reclamation efforts in the Interior Department, to require fair royalty payments for access to minerals on federal lands and to deal with the security of tenure and abandoned mine cleanup. I will fight to keep Alaska lands open to responsible mining.

While we often only see the finished product, our minerals industry is the foundation for our economy and our way of life. Alaska was built on its wealth of gold, copper, silver and zinc. It can continue to grow by mining all of those hard-rock minerals as well as uranium, platinum and rare-earth elements.

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