Earlier this spring, the Department of the Interior released its finalized Critical Minerals List. Jeffery Green, president and founder of government relations firm J.A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts reminded us in a recent piece for Defense News why the current focus on our over-reliance on foreign mineral resources is relevant. Writes Green:
“(…) America’s critical minerals problem has gone from bad to worse. 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.”
Green outlines several key steps stakeholders should focus on:
- Creating a “whole-of-market approach to spur innovation in minerals production” – i.e. removing “regulatory hurdles that dissuade would-be investors,” including, most notably, reducing permitting delays.
- Focusing on “existing Department of Defense programs designed to support the U.S. defense industrial base.” Writes Green: “Each branch of service has a ManTech program intended to improve the productivity and responsiveness of the industrial base and to enable manufacturing technologies.” However, Green believes budget requests for FY 2019 are too low: “[D]edicating just 0.025 percent of the budget to the next generation of manufacturing technologies is nowhere near enough to catch up to China and shore up domestic capabilities.”
- Ensuring that ManTech and DPA projects are not only prioritized but that respective funds will fill vulnerabilities in the defense industrial base. Writes Green: “Building resiliency and operational capacity throughout the supply chain requires investing in more than just the finished product to include the many tools, technologies, and processes that get us there. With a calculated and strategic focus on filling these gaps in the supply chain, American companies can rise to the task.”
- Combating unfair trade practices “that have bankrupted American mining companies and left us dependent on China for minerals essential to the defense industrial base.”“The United States must make clear it will not tolerate these practices, and will take a strong stance against continued, aggressive trade actions.”
As Reuters columnist Andy Home has outlined, coming up with a list of Critical Minerals was the easy part. Green’s suggested list of policy recommendations gives us another glimpse into what comes next – the hard work of overhauling policies to appropriately address our nation’s critical mineral supply issues.
Click here to read the full text of Green’s piece.