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America Needs a Secure Supply of Critical Minerals

Ore control supervisor Brittany Frolick displays pieces of ore at Molycorp’s Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, Calif., in 2015. (credit: David Becker, Reuters)

Ore control supervisor Brittany Frolick displays pieces of ore at Molycorp’s Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, Calif., in 2015. (credit: David Becker, Reuters)

September 12, 2018 | Source: National Review, nationalreview.com, 6 September 2018, Ne Mamula & Ann Bridges

Critical minerals, including rare earth elements and metals, are the new oil. The modern world has become accustomed to and dependent on technologies that require rare earth parts. Yet for decades, as the U.S. fought and won battles against its dependence on foreign oil, it ceded complete control to China for rare earths and most of our other critical-minerals needs. The result has been a vast shift of advanced technology, manufacturing jobs, and intellectual property to our largest rival — China.

Where U.S.–China trade and tariff issues are concerned, China now holds a powerful trump card. Many of the advanced-technology and strategic-defense systems upon which our nation depends will not function without Chinese rare earth parts — and alternative parts makers are not in place to fill our needs. Therefore, it might be a bad day at the bargaining table for the U.S. if and when China decides to play its rare earth card.

This problem began 30 years ago with almost no one paying any attention. China fashioned a “minerals dominance” policy decades before the Trump administration’s current “energy dominance” policy for the U.S. Their mineral-industry successes were paved by America’s retreat as the world’s top minerals producer and exporter in the 1990s. Instead, now America is the world’s top importer of Chinese minerals.

Today minerals dominance is a key element of China’s 100-year plan for global economic and military superiority, and for the strategic geopolitical challenge they pose to U.S. manufacturing. In stark contrast, the U.S., even with its vast, untapped mineral and rare earth resources, has not challenged China’s monopoly on mining and rare earth manufacturing. To his credit, President Trump has called on his administration to begin constructing such a plan.

For decades many U.S. policymakers have downplayed or ignored American mineral wealth as a major driver of economic growth, military effectiveness, or geopolitical influence. This is the complete opposite of their Chinese counterparts’ approach. While it is alarming to contrast Chinese mineral dominance with the results of past U.S. minerals policies and sentiment about mining — ranging from apathy about critical minerals to open hostility toward their domestic production.

The article continues on to provide a point-by-point comparison covering:

  • China's investment in mining of minerals,
  • China's growth in foreign investment and streamlining of foreign joint ventures with Chinese companies,
  • the 2010 Chinese embargo on rare earth minerals to Japan, and
  • U.S. dependence on China and dependency reduction,

Draft Critical Mineral List—Summary of Methodology and Background Information, 2018, U.S. Geological Survey Technical Input Document in Response to Secretarial Order No. 3359

Statement of Issue: Pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order (EO) No. 13817, "A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals," the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, and in consultation with the heads of other relevant executive departments and agencies, was tasked with developing and submitting a draft list of minerals defined as "critical minerals" to the Federal Register within 60 days of the issue of the EO (December 20, 2017; Executive Office of the President, 2017). U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretarial Order (SO) No. 3359, "Critical Mineral Independence and Security," tasked the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), with developing and submitting a proposed draft list of minerals defined as "critical minerals" within 30 days of the issue of the SO (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2017). USGS and BLM developed the unranked draft list presented herein in cooperation with the U.S. Departments of Defense (DOD), Energy, State, and Commerce, and other members of the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Mineral Supply Chains (CSMSC).

Summary of the Proposed Draft List: Based on an analysis using multiple criteria explained below, 35 minerals or mineral material groups have been identified that are currently (February 2018) considered critical. These include the following: aluminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium. The categorization of minerals as critical may change during the course of the review process and is thus provisional.

Definition: A "critical mineral," as defined by EO No. 13817, is a mineral (1) identified to be a nonfuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the United States, (2) from a supply chain that is vulnerable to disruption, and (3) that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have substantial consequences for the U.S. economy or national security. Disruptions in supply chains may arise for any number of reasons, including natural disasters, labor strife, trade disputes, resource nationalism, conflict, and so on. The draft list provided herein is based on the definition of a "critical material" provided in the EO. The U.S. Government and other organizations have other definitions and rely on other criteria to identify a material or mineral as "critical" or otherwise important. This draft list is not intended to replace related terms and definitions of materials that are deemed strategic, critical, or otherwise important (for example, the National Defense Stockpile).


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