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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Mineral import reliance US Achilles' heel

Murkowski calls for Congressional action to curb dependence

 

Last updated 2/15/2019 at 6:12am

Alaska Senator Chair Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called on Congress to pass legislation that will curb the United States' increasing dependence on foreign countries for its growing mineral needs.

In its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2018, the U.S. Geological Survey identified 50 minerals for which the U.S. was reliant on other countries for at least 50 percent of its supply, including 21 for which America is 100 percent import reliant.

Many of these are on the USGS list of 35 minerals and metals considered critical to the United States due to their importance to the defense, green energy, electronic, and other sectors of the economy.

Sen. Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Congress needs to help the White House to find ways to increase domestic production of the minerals currently being sourced elsewhere.

"Over the past several years, our committee has sought to call attention to our reliance on foreign nations for minerals," Murkowski said while chairing the first natural resources committee hearing of the 116th Congress. "The administration has taken several important steps, but we must complement their actions with congressional legislation."

At the end of 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that outlines a strategy to bolster domestic supplies of minerals and metals critical to the economic and strategic security of the United States.

Following this order, USGS put together a list of 35 critical minerals and metals. This list ranges from widely known metals such as aluminum and tin, to the more exotic elements like indium, niobium and rare earth elements.

Trump's executive order also called for a report that includes:

• a strategy to reduce the nation's reliance on critical minerals;

• an assessment of critical minerals recycling and reprocessing technologies;

• alternatives to critical minerals;

• options for accessing critical minerals through trade with U.S. allies and partners;

• a plan to improve geological mapping of the United States and its mineral resources;

• recommendations to streamline lease permitting and review processes; and

• ways to increase discovery, production, and domestic refining of critical minerals.

This report, being authored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, is expected to include analyses and strategies to strengthen and sustain the supply chains for all minerals, not just the minerals deemed critical based on the 2018 analysis.

Though slated for delivery to the White House by mid-November, this report has yet to land on the President's desk. Sources tell Mining News that the report is essentially complete and is going through the review process.

During the Feb. 5 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Sen. Murkowski said the U.S. has come a long way in curbing its reliance on overseas supplies for oil and natural gas but continues to slide when it comes to the growing need for minerals.

"Whether we realize it or not, energy and minerals fuel our 21st century economy and standard of living. Access to energy and minerals impacts everything from healthcare, to poverty levels, to defense readiness, and the strength of our manufacturing sector," she said. "In the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in domestic energy production and a corresponding decrease in our dependence on energy imports. This remarkable shift has led to substantial economic benefits here at home, while also giving us options to help our allies to achieve a level of energy security."

"In contrast to the energy sector, our nation is headed in the wrong direction on mineral imports," the Alaska senator added.

America global mineral dependency map

United States Geological Survey

The United States' increasing reliance on foreign countries for minerals and metals comes at a time when new technologies, such as electric vehicles, is increasing the competition for global supplies.

"Those who control these critical raw materials and those who possess the manufacturing and processing know-how, will hold the balance of industrial power in the 21st Century auto and energy storage industries," Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, testified before the committee.

Sen. Murkowski said America's important reliance on such minerals is a vulnerability that should be fixed.

"This is our Achilles' heel that serves to empower and enrich other nations, while costing us jobs and international competitiveness," she commented during the hearing.

 

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