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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

US reliance on mineral imports exposed

COVID reveals risks of relying on global supply chains

 
Series: COVID-19 coverage | Story 46

Last updated 6/19/2020 at 4:49am

Rare earth elements critical minerals ship loading China, US reliance on imports

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Rare earth elements and other minerals being loaded on barges in China. Currently, the U.S. is 100% reliant on imports for its rare earth needs, most of which come from China.

National Mining Association President and CEO Rich Nolan says the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the risks associated with America's overreliance on foreign supply chains for nearly every sector of the economy, especially when it comes to minerals.

"As states continue to open across the country, we must focus on investing in and establishing domestic supply chains to help speed our economic recovery and make us more resilient to future crises," he penned in a June 9 letter.

The United States relies on foreign countries for more than 50% of its supply of 31 minerals, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Mineral Commodity Summaries 2020 report, including 100% import-reliant for 14 of the minerals and metals considered critical to the nation's economic wellbeing and national security.

Further details on the report and federal initiatives to lessen America's reliance on imports for critical minerals can be read at USGS report informs critical mineral policy in the March 8 edition of Metal Tech News at: https://www.metaltechnews.com/story/2020/02/19/tech-metals/usgs-report-informs-critical-mineral-policy/158.html.

Policymakers on Capitol Hill are also concerned about America's reliance on foreign countries such as China for the minerals and metals critical to high-tech, renewable energy and other sectors of the economy.

On May 28, U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the American Critical Mineral Exploration and Innovation Act of 2020, a comprehensive piece of legislation that includes mine permitting reform, advanced critical minerals development strategies and technologies, and other measures aimed at fostering responsible domestic mineral development.

"This bill tackles impediments to domestic critical mineral development including inefficiencies in the federal permitting process and shortsighted mineral withdrawals, and also promotes technological advancements such as minerals recycling," said Gosar. "Our need for critical minerals will skyrocket in the coming decades, especially as demand for renewable energy and battery storage increases. That demand can only be met with new mining and new resources, the American Critical Mineral Exploration and Innovation Act will help us meet this challenge head on."

Nolan says this legislation is sorely needed.

"Look no further than the latest World Bank Group report, which indicates that the production of some minerals could increase by 500% by 2050 given the demands that will stem from the production of new technologies," he wrote.

Climate smart mining offers opportunities https://www.metaltechnews.com/story/2020/01/29/tech-metals/climate-smart-mining-offers-opportunities/138.html in Metal Tech News provides further details on the World Bank report referenced by Nolan.

This follows the Onshoring Rare Earths Act of 2020, or ORE Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on the other side of Capitol Hill two weeks earlier.

Cruz's legislation seeks to break America's reliance on imports for rare earth elements and four minerals and metals that go into lithium-ion batteries – cobalt, graphite, lithium, and manganese.

"Our ability as a nation to manufacture defense technologies and support our military is dangerously dependent on our ability to access rare earth elements and critical minerals mined, refined, and manufactured almost exclusively in China," said the Texas lawmaker.

More information on the American Critical Mineral Exploration and Innovation Act can be found at House lawmakers tackle critical minerals https://www.metaltechnews.com/story/2020/06/03/tech-metals/house-lawmakers-tackle-critical-minerals/245.html; and further details on the Ore Act is available at ORE Act encourages more than rare earths https://www.metaltechnews.com/story/2020/05/20/tech-bytes/ore-act-encourages-more-than-rare-earths/236.html.

It is not just lawmakers that are concerned about America's reliance on global supply chains.

According to a poll commissioned by NMA and carried out by Morning Consult, American voters are also increasingly concerned and want to secure our domestic supply chains with U.S.-sourced materials.

This poll carried out in mid-May found that 64% of voters said the coronavirus pandemic has increased their concerns about securing our domestic supply chains with U.S.-sourced materials.

Nearly half of the voters polled (47%) also said the pandemic has increased their concerns about the ability to pay their household bills.

Nolan said Congress should focus on policy reforms that allow the U.S. to take advantage of the estimated US$6.2 trillion of mineral resources currently identified on American soil and add to the 1.2 million jobs that stem from mining.

"Even as Congress considers this important legislation, mining operations across America continue to extract essential minerals – supporting our country with sustainable production to help push past this period of hardship," he wrote.

The NMA President said the advanced technologies adopted by the U.S. mining sector, coupled with social distancing, health, and safety protocols, have allowed the industry to continue safe operations during the COVID-19 pandemic

"We have been at the forefront of technological innovation – using drones and autonomous vehicles to improve workplace safety and now support safe practices amidst COVID-19," he said. "While the use of technology does not replace the human element of our mines, it has played a crucial role in keeping workers safe by reducing the threat of the spread of viruses."

EDITOR'S NOTE: To stay up to date on new technologies being adopted by the mining sector, subscribe to Metal Tech News for only US$20 per year at https://www.metaltechnews.com/subscribe.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Over his more than 11 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (907) 726-1095
https://www.facebook.com/miningnewsnorth

 

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