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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Space Force Plans Raise the Stakes to Overhaul U.S. Mineral Resource Policy

    Last week, the U.S. Government outlined plans to establish a sixth military branch – the United States Space Force.   According to Vice President Mike Pence, who announced the plans during a speech at the Pentagon, the new force would be led by a four-star commander, and funding in the federal budget would begin for fiscal year 2020.  Citing “rapidly growing threats to our space capabilities” stemming largely from “China and Russia, our strategic competitors, which] are explicitly pursuing space warfighting capabilities to neutralize U.S. space capabilities during a time of conflict,” a 15-page report released by the Pentagon outlines the overall framework.

    Of course, a new theater of war requires a different class of weaponry — but work on this front started a long time ago.

    Writes the Washington Times:

    “The notion of space as a battleground, or a staging area for state-of-the-art defense technology, dates back decades. It first came into the public eye with President Reagan’s call for a ‘Star Wars’ missile program. Since then, the U.S. and its global competitors have made dramatic technological strides.”

    Laser cannon technology represents one of these “dramatic technological strides.”

    As the New York Post reported in December of 2015:

    “[W]hile visions of lasers powerful enough to kill people or knock aircraft out of the sky or sink boats have been a staple of sci-fi since ‘Star Wars’ was just a gleam in George Lucas’s eye, laser cannons are only now on the verge of becoming reality.”

    The U.S. Defense Department began testing for high-powered silent laser weapons that just need a few short seconds to burn a hole in targets miles away at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in January of 2016.

    Of course — followers of ARPN may have been waiting for the “resource angle” in this post, so here it goes: — said weapon technology relies on Rare Earth Elements (REEs), slabs or strips of which are used as gain medium in bulk lasers.

    Meanwhile, as Jeffery Green, president and founder of J. A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts recently outlined:

    “The nation’s only domestic rare earth producer was forced into bankruptcy in 2015 after China suddenly restricted exports and subsequently flooded the market with rare earth elements. Adding insult to injury, the mine was then sold last summer for $20.5 million to MP Mine Operations LLC, a Chinese-backed consortium that includes Shenghe Resources Holding Co. Now, according to MINE Magazine, this same mine is exporting critical minerals to a processing plant in China—because the United States cannot process or refine these materials at commercial scale. Without a dramatic change in minerals policies, the United States will not be able to minimize the economic damage that will come when China decides to leverage its minerals monopolies against us.”

    So while a U.S. Space Force, creation of which will require legislation, is certainly going to be subject to much debate and will have many implications, we’re looking at a peculiar conundrum from a resource perspective:

    Staving off our “strategic competitor” China, which is threatening our space capabilities, will require the use of the very mineral resources for which China has a near-total supply monopoly. It would appear the stakes have just been raised to overhaul our mineral resource policies.  Are policy makers paying attention?

  • Soon To-Be-Released Defense Industrial Base Study May “Revolutionize Approach to Supply-Chain Security and  Strategic Materials”

    A good year ago, a presidential Executive Order (E.O. 13806) mandated the completion of a study to assess the “Manufacturing Capacity, Defense Industrial Base, and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.” According to a well-informed administration source, this defense industrial base study is now nearing completion, reports Breaking Defense.

    However, as Sydney J. Friedberg Jr. writes for the publication:

      “(…) the Executive Order 13806 study may come as a surprise: Instead of a sweeping agenda to restore America’s high-tech lead for future decades, the study will recommend near-term fixes to more mundane problems that could lose the US a war if one broke out tomorrow. From aging facilities to imported supplies, the defense industrial base is full of potential chokepoints in the supply chain.”

    One of the “chokepoints” to which Friedberg refers is the fact that “the US depends on imports for critical materials ranging from from beryllium to titanium sponge — many of which we buy from Russia, China, or the Central Asian ‘Stans.’”

    To underscore the urgency of the situation and the U.S. military’s very “real and present needs,” Friedberg invokes an image that may be familiar to ARPN followers. He writes:

    “Think of it in terms of the old nursery rhyme:

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the message was lost.
    For want of a message the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

    The E.O. 13806 industrial base study isn’t building any silver bullets for the US military (…) it’s about building nails.” 

    Our very own Dan McGroarty recently invoked the same image in a piece for Investors Business Daily, though his reference took us back to the 13th Century proverb “For want of a nail… the kingdom was lost” – as a cautionary tale that our often unnecessary over-reliance on foreign mineral resources may become our Achilles heel.

    Currently, the report is nearly completed but won’t be released for a while, and any specific policy recommendations will almost certainly be subject to lively debate.

    As the administration source told Breaking Defense, “(j)ust doing that analysis was a worthy endeavor, (…) [n]ow the policy question is, how many of those gaps that were identified does it make economic and strategic sense to plug? We’re going to have an interesting debate.”

    Jeffery Green, president and founder of Washington, DC-based J.A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts, however, is optimistic. As he recently wrote on Twitter:

    “The coming Industrial Base E.O. study could revolutionize the approach to supply-chain security and #strategicmaterials. Stay tuned..”

  • “Critical Minerals Alaska:” A Familiar Scenario for Tungsten – Chinese Domination and U.S. Prospects

    Pop quiz: Which metal has “the highest melting point of all the elements on the periodic table, (…) is a vital ingredient to a wide-range of industrial and military applications,” has made the Department of Interior’s final list of 35 metals deemed critical to U.S. national security, “yet none of this durable metal is currently (…) more

  • Cobalt’s Star Rising Even Further in Light of Breakthrough New Applications?

    Cobalt is a rising star among critical minerals, in large part because of its key role in battery technology.  However, that’s hardly the only reason. The ongoing materials science revolution has produced a new long-term use for Cobalt that may prove to be a technological breakthrough: A California-based company has announced that it has found (…) more

  • The U.S. Hunt for Cobalt – a Rising Star Among Critical Minerals – Is On

    “Gold once lured prospectors to the American west – but now it’s cobalt that is sparking a rush,” writes the BBC in a recent feature story about Cobalt, which, as ARPN followers will know, is a “key component in the lithium-ion batteries that power electronic devices and electric cars.”  Once a somewhat obscure metal, Cobalt (…) more

  • Rare Earths Issue Back in the Mix As Trade Tensions With China Escalate

    At ARPN, we have long highlighted the inter-relationship between resource policy and trade policy. While more recently, we looked at tensions in our relationship with Canada over tariffs on aluminum and steel, other areas of concern are coming into focus. Mounting tensions over trade with China have brought the Rare Earths issue, with which ARPN (…) more

  • Trade Patterns May Stay, but Manufacturers and Consumers to Bear the Brunt of Current Tensions Over Aluminum and Steel

    A recent Bloomberg story we featured last week put a face on the specter of trade war over aluminum and steel, and retraced the history of this symbiotic U.S.- Canadian trade relationship and what our very own Dan McGroarty has called the “world’s most integrated defense industrial base.”   Digging a little deeper, a new Wall (…) more

  • Senate Committee Chairman in Critical Minerals Hearing: No “Immaculate Conception” – iPhones, Fighter Jets, Solar Panels, All These Things Don’t Just Appear Out of Thin Air

    Earlier this week, the full U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to “examine the Department of the Interior’s final list of critical minerals for 2018 and opportunities to strengthen the United States’ mineral security.” Panelists included representatives from USGS and the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) as well as industry stakeholders and (…) more

  • Chinese Worries over Critical Mineral Supply Should Provide Impetus for U.S. Policy Reforms

    Escalating trade tensions have brought the issue of China’s near-total supply monopoly for Rare Earth Elements back to the front pages of American newspapers. If that isn’t reason enough for policy makers to use the momentum that has been building for the formulation of a comprehensive critical mineral strategy and an overhaul of policies standing (…) more

  • Arvida, Quebec – Putting a Face on the Specter of Trade War Over Aluminum and Steel

    Last month, our very own Dan McGroarty argued in a piece for Investor’s Business Daily that the escalation of the trade war over U.S.-imposed trade tariffs on Canadian made aluminum and steel has serious implications not only for our economy, but also for the U.S. defense industrial base.  In it, he outlined the genesis of (…) more

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