Previously-passed legislation and policy prior to the Trump administration have left the United States dangerously dependent on other countries — some of them potential adversaries — for vital natural resources and raw materials that would become unavailable in a crisis.
A new analysis of the situation notes that, for example, even as the U.S. has cut its dependence on oil and gas by ramping up fracking operations, the country remains reliant on competitor nations like China for up to 100 percent of dozens of exotic minerals like gallium, germanium, rare earth elements and platinum group metals.
These minerals should be considered “critical” because they are “required in thousands of applications; they become ‘strategic’ when we don’t produce them in the United States,” the analysis notes.
The analysis notes further:
They are essential for computers, medical imaging and diagnostic devices, night vision goggles, GPS and communication systems, television display panels, smart phones, jet engines, light-emitting diodes, refinery catalysts and catalytic converters, wind turbines, solar panels, long-life batteries and countless other applications. In 1954, the USA imported 100% of just eight vital minerals; in 1984, only eleven.
Today, in this technology-dominated world, the United States imports up to 100% of 35 far more critical materials. Twenty of them come 100% from China, others from Russia, and others indirectly from places where child labor, worker safety, human rights and environmental standards are nonexistent.
The situation is untenable and unsustainable. Literally every sector of the US economy, the nation’s defense, its energy and employment base, its living standards – all are dependent on sources, supply chains and transportation routes that are vulnerable to disruption under multiple scenarios.
The problem has been made worse through past policies and legislation — and politics. The analysis notes that, for example, Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act with the understanding that it would apply to a small amount of total U.S. land mass and with provisions that, under supervision from the U.S. Geological Survey, prospecting for minerals would still be permitted. However, subsequent administrations have dramatically expanded the amount of land ‘protected’ under this Act and ignored prospecting provisions, to the detriment of the country’s national security.
The analysis noted further that land equal to the size of several western states combine is now off-limits to prospecting and mining for essential elements and minerals used in commercial products and national security systems.
The bottom line is that reliance on other great powers for these materials is dangerous while perpetuating that reliance via public policy makes the situation worse. [source]
Analysis: The one bright spot in the analysis is that President Trump is aware of our dangerous reliance and has crafted an executive order addressing the issue. It says “that federal policies would henceforth focus on reducing these vulnerabilities, in part by requiring that government agencies coordinate in publishing an updated analysis of critical nonfuel minerals; ensuring that the private sector have electronic access to up-to-date information on potential US and other alternative sources; and finding safe and environmentally sound ways to find, mine, reprocess and recycle critical minerals – emphasizing sources that are less likely to come from unfriendly nations, less likely to face disruption.” Also, “The order also requires that agencies prepare a detailed report on long-term strategies for reducing US reliance on critical minerals, assessing recycling and reprocessing progress, creating accessible maps of potentially mineralized areas, supporting private sector mineral exploration, and streamlining regulatory and permitting processes for finding, producing and processing domestic sources of these minerals.”
In the meantime, the analysis recommends that relevant federal agencies including the departments of Agriculture and Interior follow the provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act that allow for prospecting in protected lands in order to local domestic supplies for “critical” and “strategic” materials and minerals. The problem is, change at the federal level, even when a president orders it, is lethargic because federal agencies are replete with ideologically-driven career bureaucrats who slow-walk the president’s policy priorities if they disagree with them. The analysis author gave an example: “In 1978, while hiking with him, I asked then Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Rupert Cutler how he could defend ignoring this clear statutory language and prohibiting all prospecting, surveys and other assessment work in wilderness and study areas. ‘I don’t think Congress should have enacted those provisions,’ he replied, ‘so I’m not going to follow them.'”