The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports the United States relies completely on China, Russia, and others countries for 20 of the 23 most critical minerals used in manufacturing, including rare earth minerals critical to national defense and the economy and used in everything from batteries and computer chips to military equipment.
The report states, “The United States is currently 100 percent reliant on foreign sources for 20 mineral commodities and imports the majority of its supply of more than 50 mineral commodities. Mineral commodities that have important uses and face potential supply disruption are critical to American economic and national security.”
Demand for these minerals in the United States will only increase in the future, and supplies will be stretched thinner as other nations require these same minerals for themselves, the USGS report warns. Further complicating the situation, many of these minerals come from countries that are politically unstable or less than friendly to the United States, such as China and Russia.
‘Must Not Remain Reliant’
The day after USGS released its report, on December 20, 2017 President Trump signed an executive order (EO) to reduce U.S. dependency on other nations for critical minerals.
“The United States must not remain reliant on foreign competitors like Russia and China for the critical minerals needed to keep our economy strong and our country safe,” Trump said in a statement.
Minerals, Mission Critical
Ann Bridges, a technology writer and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says Trump’s action is important because finding a stable, plentiful supply of critical minerals is crucial to the United States’ economic future and national security.
“The 21st century lifestyle and defending our freedoms are based on technologies that increasingly require the critical minerals for which we are almost totally dependent on others,” said Bridges. “Smartphones, MRI machines, wind turbines, solar panels, electric car batteries, and our military’s most advanced weaponry all have unique features requiring these critical minerals that enable mobility, miniaturization, malleability, and heat dissipation.
“While many would love to believe a global free market system will work to supply critical minerals for all, the premise is there is indeed a free market in these minerals, but there isn’t,” Bridges said. “China’s Communist Party underwrites their country’s mineral commodity prices and limits the flow and release of these minerals to international markets, both to give its manufacturing industries a competitive edge for political reasons and as a way to extort geopolitical concessions when trade or other disagreements arise with foreign governments.”
Bridges says the U.S. mineral dependency is a matter of utmost importance.
“The sooner we get out from under our dependence on China, the better we will be,” said Bridges. “At this point, if China declared war on us, we couldn’t defend ourselves without their willingness to supply us with arms.”
Wind, Solar Energy Dependence
Paul Driessen, a senior policy advisor for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says some of these critical minerals are necessary to meet the growing demand for wind and solar energy.
“Just to replace the world’s total current electricity with wind turbines and generate enough extra electricity to charge batteries for seven straight windless days, would require some 100 million 1.8MW turbines, operating an average of eight hours a day, every day,” Driessen said. “Storing electricity for those windless days would require hundreds of billions of battery arrays, all of which would require millions of tons of cadmium, lithium, rare earth metals, and other minerals we have never had to look for previously.
“Ditto for photovoltaic solar panels, and our night vision, smart bombs, and other military technologies also require enormous quantities of the same materials,” said Driessen. “Right now, we are almost 100 percent dependent on foreign sources for those materials, many of which come from nations whose governments can be less than stable or friendly.”
Domestic Supplies Available
Driessen say the United States has plenty of land on which to search for these minerals.
“Mountain ranges and other geologic formations on federal lands in Alaska and in various western states have the right rocks and conditions to host rich deposits,” said Driessen. “However, most of these lands are off-limits to exploration and mining, locked up under various restrictive land use categories like wilderness designations, or off-limits due to judicial decrees prohibiting exploration.
“Most of those areas have thus never been explored, even for traditional metals and minerals, much less for these exotics, and certainly not with modern technologies,” Driessen said. “Opening mines in these vast areas would disturb at most a few thousand acres out hundreds of millions of acres of federal land.”
‘This Cannot Continue’
For the good of the country, the federal government must open viable federal lands up to mining, despite opposition by environmentalists, says Driessen.
“Unfortunately, environmentalists are adamantly opposed to opening these areas up to mining, even for materials necessary for the computers, cell phones, renewable energy systems, and battery-powered cars they use daily and profess to love,” said Driessen. “This cannot continue.
“We need to revise our land use and environmental policies to allow access to these minerals,” Driessen said. “The future of Americans’ living standards and security depends on it.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
“Critical Mineral Resources of the United States—Economic and Environmental Geology and Prospects for Future Supply,” Professional Paper 1802, U.S. Geological Survey, December 19, 2017: https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1802/pp1802_entirebook.pdf