Energy, minerals, and metals are indispensable for our American standard of living. But unlike the case with energy, the U.S. is chronically import-reliant on other nations for the minerals and metals that are needed for our country’s economy, infrastructure, and military. Mineral imports have steadily increased for at least the past two decades because draconian permitting requirements and environmental opposition have made it hard to supply those needs from sources within the U.S. Now there is not enough domestic mining to meet robust manufacturing demand.
However, the real problem is that more and more mineral imports are coming from China, Russia, and third-world dictatorships. The nation’s vulnerability to a mineral embargo has become sufficiently serious that President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) on December 20, 2017, to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals for the nation.
For the first time, a presidential EO puts forth an official government definition of what a “critical mineral” is, along with its role in the economy: “a non-fuel mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the U.S.; the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption; and that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for our economy or our national security.”
This new definition enables federal agencies and others to focus on how serious the issue of critical mineral imports has become from an economic, geological, technological, and manufacturing standpoint.
In response to the president’s EO, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) last week published a list of 35 “critical minerals” that are important for American economic health and military readiness. The draft list includes aluminum, platinum, rare-earth elements, tin, titanium, and over two dozen other critical minerals and metals. These are the minerals that will be required to sustain our standard of living and begin rebuilding the American infrastructure, as proposed by the president.