It’s that time of the year again – we load up our shopping carts with fireworks and burger buns, and gear up for parades to honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue our safeguard our freedom today. Many of us will have already traveled this week – and according to AAA, a record-breaking 46.9 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home this Independence Day holiday.
Holiday travel, as much fun as it can be, is often fraught with a certain level frustration, some of which may be owed to our crumbling infrastructure. Bridges, roads and highways have become the poster child – but they’re only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty wrote last year:
“[t]oday, our infrastructure extends to the national power grid — currently a patchwork of lines, nodes and often antique switching towers we rely on to move energy to where we need it — to the internet itself, which has a physicality we easily overlook in this Age of the Cloud and Wireless. These systems, marvels that they are, come closer to tin-can-and-string contraptions than the modern version we would build if we began the work today.”
Threats against our infrastructure, as we pointed out previously, are as diverse as they are real, and dealing with them requires a comprehensive approach.
“Securing access to Copper, Graphite, Cobalt, Manganese, and Rhenium may not be the first things that come to mind when we think critical infrastructure protection – but they, and many other tech metals and minerals, have to be on our shopping list if we’re serious about a 21st Century infrastructure that is competitive and can withstand threats from the outside and within.”
All of which brings us back to our Independence Day theme. Over the past few years, we have used the occasion of Independence Day to remind ourselves that “while we cherish the freedom we are blessed with in so many ways, we must not become complacent, as there are areas where we’re increasingly becoming less independent” – with our reliance on foreign mineral resources being a case in point.
We point now as in years past to a troubling trend, as for decades, our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance.
Thankfully, this year’s narrative may be changing, as a comprehensive effort to reduce our often unnecessary and largely homemade mineral import dependence is underway. The recently-released Department of Interior list of 35 metals and minerals deemed critical for our national security is a good starting point,as is the attachment of the Amodei critical minerals bill as an amendment to the 2018/2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate has since passed NDAA language which excludes the Amodei amendment.
As the latest Senate developments show, much will depend on how policy makers and stakeholders follow through on their commitments. Paying mere lip service to previously stated lofty goals will not suffice. We can neither maintain our modern economy nor rebuild our infrastructure without a steady supply of metals and minerals. There are several reasons why we will likely never achieve full resource independence – but that does not mean we shouldn’t strive towards reducing policy barriers to the responsible harnessing of our domestic resources.
As Dan McGroarty put it several years ago:
“Those we do not possess here at home, we must source from other countries. But those we possess but choose not to produce perpetuate a needless foreign dependence – leverage that other nations may well use to America’s disadvantage.”
On the eve of this year’s Independence Day, the momentum for meaningful policy reform is finally here — and too much is at stake to let it slip.