The U.S. Mining and Mineral-Processing Industry:

An Analysis of Trends and Implications

ID-80-04: Published: Oct 31, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 1979.

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In an analysis of trends in the U.S. mineral industry, GAO studied the U.S. and foreign government actions that involve economic access to minerals, development and financing costs, labor costs, and energy availability and price.

The closing of several zinc-processing facilities has reduced domestic capacity by almost 50 percent, and imports of zinc metal have increased 89 percent. Imports of chromium and manganese ores for use in making ferroalloys have declined, while imports of ferroalloys have increased substantially. Despite forecasts of annual growth in copper demand, no major new smelter or refinery capacity is likely before 1985; meanwhile, imports of refined copper over the last 10 years have risen from 6 percent to over 19 percent of U.S. consumption. Although demand for aluminum is forecast to grow at about 7 percent annually through 1985, U.S. aluminum production capacity is growing at only 1.4 percent annually, and imports of aluminum are expected to double by the year 2000. GAO compared U.S. and foreign government actions that influence these trends, and found that the U.S. Government: (1) limits the use of Federal lands for mineral exploration; (2) imposes strict environmental requirements which add significant costs to the development of domestic mineral projects (while some countries are either more lenient in their enforcement or provide assistance to defray costs); (3) restricts the use of joint ventures to pool resources and share risks; and (4) adds to the cost of labor by imposing worker health and safety requirements. There is much uncertainty regarding the future price and availability of energy supplies needed for the mineral industry due to the absence of a clear U.S. Government energy policy.

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