We realize that New Year’s resolutions are somewhat controversial. Some say, they‘re not worth the paper they’re written on – but we feel that whether or not we implement all of them, they offer a good opportunity to both step back to reflect and set goals as we look at the big picture ahead. And that certainly can’t hurt.
With several positive stage-setting steps taken in 2018, 2019 continued to bring a number of positive developments in the realm of mineral resource policy.
However, while we appear to be headed in the right direction — towards an all-of-the-above approach in mineral resource policy as outlined in our 2019 recap — most of the resolutions we spelled out last January remain stubbornly valid 365 days later (though not without some tweaks or additions).
Without further ado, here’s our updated list of suggested new year’s resolutions for resource policy stakeholders:
Continue the National Policy Conversation
Against the backdrop of the specter of China playing the “rare earths card” setting off alarm bells and the intensifying the battery arms race, the Commerce Department released the long-awaited interagency Commerce Department report pursuant to Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals released in June 2019 at a critical juncture.
There are indications that it may have served as a catalyst for policy makers across the political aisle to understand the urgency of securing mineral resource supply chains, and the need at long last for a more comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy. In an increasingly toxic political climate in Washington, D.C., it is important that policy makers work to ensure that partisanship does not impede the advancement of policy solutions because, as ARPN‘s Dan McGroarty noted during a recent panel discussion:
“We can’t admire the problem anymore. We don’t have the luxury of time.“
This past summer, just as it did in 2010, the Rare Earths issue has once again re-introduced non-fuel mineral resource issues into the mainstream political discourse. This growing awareness of our nation‘s mineral resource woes should be harnessed — and stakeholders should work to change the sentiment that “neither [political] parties’ base sees critical minerals as such a dire threat.”
The above referenced Commerce report – coupled with studies released in 2018 (DoI‘s Critical Minerals List and DoD‘s Defense Industrial Base Review) – represents must-read material for all stakeholders involved to develop an understanding of U.S. mineral resource needs and associated supply challenges and should form the basis for any meaningful policy discussions in 2020. USGS‘s 2017 “Critical Minerals of the United States” should also be required reading.
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: “ARPN knows how the Congress works; let’s hope Members delegate a key staffer or several to divvy up the USGS tome and really get familiar with it.”
Don‘t Forget the Gateway/Co-Product Interrelationship
2019 was a fast-paced year on the mineral resource front. And with China‘s Rare Earths saber-rattling and the intensifying battery arms race revolving primarily around cobalt, lithium, graphite and nickel, it might be easier to focus attention on just a handful metals and minerals.
However, we must continue to look at the bigger picture. Courtesy of the materials science revolution, Gateway metals – which include mainstay metals like Copper, Aluminum, Nickel, Tin and Zinc – and their Co-Products are increasingly becoming the building blocks of 21st Century technology. Their interrelationship should be factored into any mineral resource policy discussion.
(Read our 2018 “Through the Gateway” report here.)
Some legislative progress was made in 2019 (see our recap), however Congress failed once more to pass key critical minerals provisions. Congress should make an effort to finally pass these common sense provisions in 2020.
As we previously noted, “as important as Executive Orders are, they are not legislation, and history has shown that policy that is set and enacted by the stroke of the Presidential pen can just as easily be undone. Ultimately, for any real progress to grab hold and develop staying power, codification of any reforms yielded by these orders through Congressional action is highly desirable.”
Again, it’s all about harnessing momentum. As E&E’s Dylan Brown wrote discussing a recent U.S. House hearing on critical mineral issues: “They are split on solutions, but many Republicans and Democrats share national security concerns about growing reliance on foreign countries, in particular China, for a slew of minerals used in military and renewable energy technology.”
Factor Resource Policy Into Trade Policy – and Vice Versa
2018 brought the inter-relationship between trade and resource policy to the forefront with U.S.-imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico weighing on the negotiations surrounding the USMCA trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. The tariffs were ultimately removed in 2019, but the agreement signed in December between Canada, Mexico and the United States may open the door to increased metal imports from China via Mexico as its amended rules of origin for automobiles include tighter definitions of what constitutes North American steel — but not of what constitutes North American aluminum.
In 2019, the inter-relationship between trade and resource policy became even clearer in the context of the U.S.-Chinese trade war. The specter of China rare earths as an economic weapon has revealed that the current trade war between the U.S. and China is in fact one front in a larger tech war – a competition to see which country will dominate the 21st Century Technology Age, in which our “Achilles’ heel” is our over-reliance on foreign metals and minerals underpinning 21st Century technology and China’s dominance across the supply chains for many of them.
Against this backdrop, the U.S. has stepped up its cooperative efforts with close allies and reliable trading partners — a trend stakeholders should build on in the coming months. The bottom line is that policy-making cannot occur in a vacuum. Trade issues should inform mineral resource policy and vice versa.
Once more, our 2020 resolutions come down to:
Discuss, Read – and Act.
And while there is some debate on whether 2020 represents the beginning of the new decade or not we have every hope that we‘ll continue on the positive trajectory towards a comprehensive mineral resource policy — one that, when we look back on 2020, will mark this year as beginning of our journey to American resource independence.