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Columns
READER COMMENT
Readers Comment: U.S. unprepared for rising demand in key minerals, metals

A new government report suggests we must revisit the regulatory regime that restricts hard rock mining in the United States. A surge in demand is coming for the minerals and metals needed in every sector of our economy, and we are woefully unprepared to meet it.

The problem is not a lack of domestic resources. We have them in spades. In fact, the U.S. possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion in minerals reserves. But we still import nearly $7 billion in minerals and metals each year. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2017 Mineral Commodity Summary, America is import-dependent for half or all of 50 key mineral commodities. And this import dependency is only poised to grow.

Our regulatory policies governing hard rock mining are now so obstructive that they almost guarantee mining investment goes elsewhere, despite our vast resources. There’s no better example of this regulatory straightjacket than our mine permitting process. Gaining the necessary approvals to open a new U.S. mine can take seven to 10 years, and often longer. This is absurd and unnecessary.

In Canada and Australia, nations with similar environmental standards, the mine permitting process takes just two to three years on average. We can and should do better. Revising our permitting process and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive. Commonsense reforms are available, if we choose to act.

President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan highlights the urgency of reform. The Trump administration has already signaled its interest in using American-made materials, where possible, to rebuild or expand our roads, airports, railroads, and pipelines. Spending billions overseas on zinc, iron ore, and copper, among other metals, wouldn’t fit that American-made goal. But our mines and mills can meet this need — and provide good-paying jobs — if we level the playing field for our producers by reforming our regulatory policies.

Infrastructure is just a small part of the coming demand, however. Our technology-driven economy has an increasingly voracious appetite for minerals and metals. Take the batteries used in all of our smart phones and a growing number of our cars. The electric vehicle revolution is the perfect example of the challenge and opportunity before us.

EVs are no longer a technology on the horizon. They’re here. Consider that between 2010 and 2015, just one million EVs were sold globally. However, more than two million EVs are expected to be sold in 2020 alone. Forecasters are increasingly bullish, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that EVs will capture 50 percent of the new car market by 2040. Wood Mackenzie thinks EVs could offset 20 percent of global oil demand by 2035.

The emergence of EVs has coincided with major advancements in lithium-ion batteries. And while these batteries have gotten better and cheaper, demand for lithium and other building block minerals and metals — like nickel, graphite and cobalt — has soared.

For example, just one battery for a high-end Tesla uses as much lithium carbonate as roughly 10,000 cell phones. And global lithium demand is on track to quadruple by 2025. It’s no surprise that Goldman Sachs has called lithium the new gasoline.

We may well be sleepwalking from a dependence on OPEC toward a similar dependence on foreign minerals and metals suppliers. Fortunately, some are aware of this, and are working to do something about it.

Legislation recently introduced in the Senate by Dean Heller, R-Nev., and in the House of Representatives by Mark Amodei, R-Nev., provides some commonsense reforms for the mine permitting process that will reduce duplication and improve efficiencies.

The time is now to refocus on our hard rock mining policies. Our economy and our security could well depend on doing so. Congress should act immediately to make the United States becomes a more attractive destination for mining investment and production.


Columns
READER COMMENT
Readers Comment: Chamber: Vote yes on school levy

Great schools are a key to our future in Twin Falls and the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce supports and encourages all voters to support the upcoming Twin Falls School District supplemental levy.

The Twin Falls area has experienced phenomenal economic development success over the past several years. This growth continues to draw new people to the region with many choosing to live within the Twin Falls School District. The upcoming supplemental levy is a critical investment in our community infrastructure and one that the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce supports.

The proposed supplemental levy will generate approximately 10 percent of the school district’s operating budget. Money will be used for many critical operational needs including teacher and support staff, textbooks and curriculum, and general classroom supplies. Having appropriate funding for our local school district is critical to the continued economic vitality and positive quality of life for the community. The availability of quality education is a key determining factor for companies that are looking to locate in Twin Falls or people considering moving to the city.

The school district has completed a thoughtful assessment of needs with its community-based Budget Advisory Committee. Their recommendation to slightly reduce the levy amount is prudent and will allow for a lower levy rate. This, along with the expanding tax base in the district, should result in property owners experiencing a reduction in the amount of tax paid.

The Board of Directors for the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce sees this supplemental levy as a continued important investment in our children and in the local economy. We encourage you to vote “yes” in the March 14 election. You can get more information about the levy on the School District website at www.tfsd.org or by calling 208-733-6900. Early voting is underway until March 10 at Twin Falls County West, 630 Addison Avenue West from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Absentee ballots can be requested until March 3. Or, vote at your regular polling location on March 14 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.


Mailbag
Letter: In praise of Bedke

This letter is a response to the recent articles impugning the moral and ethical conduct of Mr. Scott Bedke of our state House of Representatives. A close review of the facts that are available from various credible and independent sources clearly exonerates Mr. Bedke from the accusations levied against him. Those facts are available to anyone who chooses to seek them out. My personal support of Mr. Bedke comes from nearly 40 years of occasional interaction on a social level as well as on public matters. I feel confident in vouching for his character.

I may have not always agreed fully with his positions at times, but I have never felt that his integrity, morals or good intentions were in question. He can be either direct or diplomatic depending on the situation and willing to “stick his neck out” for what he perceives to be the right thing verses the politically expedient thing. While that can be frustrating if you are on the other side of the issue it is at least genuine. Citizen legislators (not to be confused with professional and often self-serving ones) give up much to carry out the business of public policy. Personally, I’m glad that someone has the patience and willingness to do the tedious and often painfully slow work required to move things along.

There is a reason why Mr. Bedke has been selected by his peers to be the speaker of the House and I suspect that reason is one of qualifications. The need to maintain decorum and order in the legislative body is imperative for productivity. Those involved in personal disputes, positioning, or grandstanding need to move on for the public good, and the public good should be the only reason why they are there. There is much that is important and needs to be done. Until presented with clear facts to dispute Mr. Bedke’s integrity, ability and willingness to effectively carry out the public business, my vote is with him. Let’s get on with the work.

Jed Wayment

Burley


Columns
Krauthammer: Revolt of the attorneys general

WASHINGTON — Among the many unintended legacies of Barack Obama, one has gone largely unnoticed: the emergence of a novel form of resistance to executive overreach, a check-and-balance improvised in reaction to his various presidential power grabs.

It’s the revolt of the state attorneys general, banding together to sue and curb the executive. And it has outlived Obama.

Normally one would expect Congress to be the instrument of resistance to presidential trespass. But Congress has been supine. The Democrats in particular, approving of Obama’s policy preferences, allowed him free rein over Congress’ constitutional prerogatives.

Into that vacuum stepped the states. Florida and 12 others filed suit against Obamacare the day it was signed. They were later joined by 13 others, making their challenge the first in which a majority of states banded together to try to stop anything.

They did not always succeed, but they succeeded a lot. They got Obamacare’s forced Medicaid expansion struck down, though Obamacare as a whole was upheld. Later, a majority of states secured stays for two egregious EPA measures. One had given the feds sovereignty over the generation and distribution of electricity (the Clean Power Plan), the other over practically every ditch and pond in America (the Waters of the United States rule).

Their most notable success was blocking Obama’s executive order that essentially would have legalized 4 million illegal immigrants. “If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours,” said Obama. Not your job, said the courts.

Democrats noticed. And now with a Republican in the White House, they’ve adopted the technique. Having lost control of Congress, they realize that one way to curb presidential power is to go through the states. They just did on Trump’s immigration ban. Taking advantage of the courts’ increased willingness to grant “standing” to the states, Washington state and Minnesota got a district court to issue an injunction against Trump’s executive order and got it upheld by the 9th Circuit. Where the ban died.

A singular victory. Democratic-run states will be emboldened to join together in opposing Trump administration measures issuing from both the agency rulings (especially EPA and the Department of Education) and presidential executive orders.

Is this a good thing? Regardless of your party or policy preferences, you must admit we are witnessing a remarkable phenomenon: the organic response of a constitutional system in which the traditional barriers to overreach have atrophied and a new check-and-balance emerges almost ex nihilo.

Congress has allowed itself to become an increasingly subordinate branch. Look at how reluctant Congress has been to even consider a new authorization for the use of force abroad, an area in which, constitutionally, it should be dominant. Look at today’s GOP Congress, having had years to prepare to govern, now appearing so tentative, almost paralyzed. “Many Republican members,” reports the Washington Post, “are eager for Trump to provide clear marching orders.” The president orders, Congress marches — that is not how the Founders drew it up.

Hence the state attorneys general rise to check the president and his functionaries. This is good.

Not because it necessarily produces the best policy outcomes. It often doesn’t.

Not because judicial grants of standing are always correct. The 9th Circuit, in effect, granted Minnesota and Washington standing to represent the due process rights of Yemeni nationals who’ve never set foot in the United States — an imaginary harm to states that presupposes imaginary rights for Yemenis.

And not because it’s necessarily good for the judicial system to acquire, through this process, yet more power. This really should be adjudicated by the elected branches. Problem is: Congress has abdicated.

Nonetheless, the revolt of the AGs is to be celebrated. It is a reassuring sign of the creativity and suppleness of the American Constitution, of its amphibian capacity to grow a new limb when an old one atrophies.

This is, of course, not the first time the states have asserted themselves against federal power. There was Fort Sumter, 1861, when the instruments employed were rather more blunt than the multistate lawsuit. All the more reason to celebrate this modern device.

I’m sure conservatives won’t like many of the outcomes over the next four years, just as many liberals deeply disapproved of the Obama-blocking outcomes of the recent past.

The point, however, is not outcome but process. Remarkably, we have spontaneously developed a new one — to counter executive willfulness. There’s a reason that after two and a half centuries the French are on their Fifth Republic and we are still on our first.