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Missouri could play role in supply chain woes with push for more mining

Missouri could play role in supply chain woes with push for more mining

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Fredericktown City Lake

A view of Fredericktown City Lake, which supplies drinking water to residents of the Southeast Missouri town, in November 2015. It is part of a federal Superfund cleanup from lead and other mining activities in Madison County, Mo. A joint venture of St. Louis-based Environmental Operations recently purchased a nearby mine with plans to remediate it and mine the remaining cobalt, a key ingredient in batteries. Photo by Jacob Barker.

JEFFERSON CITY — At a time when supply chain problems have slowed the production of cars, trucks and other manufactured goods, Missouri could launch a new effort to map out previously undiscovered mineral reserves.

If key deposits of certain elements are found, the effort could help in the production of electric vehicles, cellphones and medical and defense technologies, removing some of the nation’s reliance on China and other countries to provide those materials.

Under a proposal outlined in budget documents filed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the state would earmark $134,000 to complete a geologic map showing areas of the state that could hold minerals like cobalt, rare earth elements, manganese and others.

“The current national focus on mineral occurrence and supply chain resiliency in the U.S. is unprecedented and presents a unique opportunity to expand knowledge of Missouri’s natural resources that informs economic development,” the spending proposal says.

Missouri, once a hub for lead and zinc mining, has a lengthy history of mineral production and is among the top 10 mineral-producing states in the nation.

Providing geologic maps and datasets on other types of minerals could encourage private investment at a time when President Joe Biden is seeking to reduce U.S. reliance on China for electric vehicle materials.

“These potential investments can lead to economic development, job creation, and a reduction in U.S. dependence on foreign supplies of minerals,” the agency said.

Some investors are already in the process of tapping into underground deposits of rare earth elements and cobalt.

In Washington County, the owners of the former Pea Ridge iron ore mine are seeking federal funding to create a steel manufacturing plant and mine for rare earths.

In Madison County, the head of a St. Louis environmental remediation firm and an Indiana financier have teamed up to buy a cobalt mine near Fredericktown that they say has some of the biggest reserves in North America.

In June, Missouri Cobalt LLC announced it was in the final construction stage of a new facility that will allow the firm to begin production of large-scale quantities of battery-grade cobalt and nickel.

“This milestone represents significant progress toward the Company’s objective to become the leading North American supplier of battery-grade cobalt and nickel, and the only company to process in the United States,” the company said.

The venture is headed by Stacy W. Hastie, chairman and CEO of St. Louis-based Environmental Operations Inc. The company’s general counsel is former House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican from Des Peres who resigned from office in 2015 after he sent sexually charged text messages to a 19-year-old legislative intern.

According to the DNR, seven of the 35 minerals considered critical to the economic and national security of the nation are found in Missouri.

Under the proposal, Missouri could qualify for federal matching funds to produce the maps and data.

“This new decision item will build on federal partnerships and accelerate efforts to complete detailed geologic mapping and geochemical analyses in areas of Missouri with potential for undiscovered mineral reserves. It will result in better understanding Missouri’s mineral resources,” the budget request notes.

It is not known if Gov. Mike Parson will include the request when he unveils his budget proposal in January.

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