Environmental Stewardship

Interior Highlights the Importance of Critical Minerals that Might Be in Your Christmas Gifts

If you are doing last minute Christmas shopping, chances are the gifts you are thinking about buying depend on minerals. From the batteries and computer chips in smartphones and other electronics to catalytic converters in cars, most American have never given any thought to the mineral commodities that make these technologies possible.

But minerals are in the news because of a new government report and an executive order. The U.S. Geological Survey, part of the Department of the Interior, published a report this week describing the importance of minerals critical to our nation’s economy and security as well as the challenges in obtaining them. Building off the report, President Trump signed an executive order detailing a federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of these critical minerals.

The report highlighted the extent to which the U.S. is dependent on other countries for its supply of many different types of minerals. The U.S. Geological Survey tracks the supplies of 88 different mineral commodities, but in the report, it deemed 23 minerals as being critical. For a mineral to be considered critical, it must have important economic and national security uses, have no viable substitutes, and face potential supply disruptions. For example, 20 of the 23 minerals deemed critical in the report are exclusively sourced from China.

“This executive order will prioritize reducing the Nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in our supply of critical minerals safely and responsibility for the benefit of the American people,” said President Trump. “As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the very real national security risk of relying on foreign nations for the military’s needs to keep our soldiers and our homeland safe,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “I applaud President Trump’s action to fix this problem at all points in the supply chain.”

The executive order instructs the Department of the Interior to work with other relevant agencies to improve the mapping of critical resources, give miners access to better data, and streamline the leasing and permitting process.

ALEC previously highlighted the importance of minerals to our nation’s economy in our report Dig It! Rare Earth and Uranium Mining Potential in the States. The report found that while the U.S. had a vast supply of certain minerals, miners often go to other countries. The lengthy permitting process often frightens away prospective mining companies — and the jobs, economic growth, and tax revenue they generate — because it takes around seven years to get a new mine approved. The wait time for approval in the U.S. is among the longest in the world.

It is a shame the U.S. has such a long approval process. ALEC research found that states with rare earth minerals and uranium resources could benefit by more than $40 billion in increased economic development, add nearly 9,000 good paying jobs and improve their state revenue by almost $2 billion, with no change to tax rates or the imposition of new taxes. While a thorough approval process is necessary, seven years is an unreasonable length.

If you get a new tablet or smartphone for Christmas, remember how important minerals are to those and other products. Ensuring the U.S. has a supply of critical minerals is an important economic and national security priority. The U.S. can improve its supply of these critical minerals by streamlining the permitting and leasing process, and at the same time create thousands of new jobs.

In Depth: Environmental Stewardship

Listen to any news broadcast, read any press release from an environmental advocacy group or simply watch the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) propose new regulation after new regulation, and it would be nearly impossible to not come away concerned or even fearful of imminent environmental disaster. It should come …

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