Murkowski questions agency on its mission to assess minerals

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The head of the U.S. Geological Survey assured U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Thursday that the identification and assessment of minerals remains a high priority for the science agency.

“We have taken concrete steps to address new strategic directions for our minerals work to enhance our ability to do life cycle analysis,” which entails taking a comprehensive look at mineral supplies from their time in the ground to when they will be recycled, USGS Director Suzette Kimball said.

Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Resources. In a December letter, and again at the hearing in Washington, D.C., Murkowski expressed concern that the USGS had deemphasized a core mission to assess the nation’s mineral resources. U.S. mineral dependence on foreign suppliers is growing, she said.

“Last year we imported more than 50 percent of our supply of 47 minerals, including 100 percent of 19 of them,” Murkowski said.

The USGS, she said, appeared to be paying less attention to minerals and it showed in the agency budget. “Not even 10 percent goes to the energy and minerals program,” Murkowski said.

Kimball said the opposite is happening. The agency’s minerals and energy resource program in a realignment was elevated as one of seven critical USGS missions, she said. The program will get its own associate director.

“I think that’s really going to jumpstart our efforts with critical minerals,” she said in a phone interview after the hearing.

The agency works with the Defense and State departments and other agencies for an understanding of everything from identification of mineral resources to exploration, extraction, application and eventual recycling, she said.

Murkowski sponsored legislation, now incorporated into the Energy Policy Modernization Act, aimed at preventing mineral supply shocks and boosting U.S. industrial competitiveness.

The measure would require the USGS director to identify and quantify critical U.S. mineral resources within four years. It also includes requirements for the Interior and Agriculture departments to speed up the permitting process for new mines.

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