American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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Happy Independence Day! We’re Free, Yet So Dependent

stephanie-mccabe-24620Happy Birthday, America! Another trip around the sun, and we’re back on the eve of the 4th of July gearing up for parades, barbecues and fireworks in honor of the men and women who have fought, and continue to safeguard our freedom today.

Last year, we used this opportunity to point out 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.  Of course, since we are who we are, ARPN looked at U.S. mineral resource policy as a case in point.  We feel our post is still very timely, and perhaps even more so today, as some of our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further since last year.  Take a look:

“As our friends at the National Mining Association have aptly pointed out in their latest email message to their supporters (subscription only),  ‘minerals make possible much of the technology that enables national defense’ and  ‘keep our nation and our troops safe and fuel innovations that improve veterans’ quality of life.’

Recognizing the importance of critical metals and minerals, the United States began placing an emphasis on securing access to these materials in the 1950s.   However, a recent USGS analysis paints a troubling picture.  An analysis of data collected between 1954 and 2014 shows that our reliance on foreign non-fuel minerals has significantly increased over the examined 60-year time frame – both in terms of number and type, as well as percentage of import reliance. As we previously pointed out:

‘The data clearly shows that whereas the number of nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% net import-dependent was 28 in 1954, this number has increased to 47 in 2014.  And while the U.S. was 100% net import reliant for 8 of the non-fuel commodities analyzed in 1954, this total import reliance increased to 11 non-fuel minerals in 1984, and surged to 19 in 2014.’

What’s more, there has been a drastic shift in provider countries:

‘Whereas in 1954 the U.S. sourced metals and minerals largely from our trading partners, our diversified supply sources today also include a number of countries that are ranked as ‘unfree’ and ‘less free’ on various indices, thus raising the specter of supply disruptions given the volatility of geopolitical realities.’

ARPN followers know that much of our over-reliance on foreign minerals is largely self-inflicted.  Most recently, using the example of Copper, we’ve pointed this out as part of our ‘Through the Gateway’ informational campaign on Gateway Metals and their Co-Products, arguing that:

‘With our own reserves and at mining projects ready to come online, the U.S. would not only be able to become self-sufficient with regards to meeting Copper needs, but could even position itself to be a Copper net exporter.  A similar scenario is feasible for a number of other critical metals and minerals, where we could, at a minimum, significantly reduce foreign import dependencies by harnessing our domestic mineral potential.’

James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers of the very nation the birthday of which we’re about to celebrate, once said:

‘I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’

USGS has alerted us to one of those gradual and silent encroachments.  They come in the form of decreased exploration spending and an increase in the time it takes for domestic mineral resource extraction projects to come online courtesy of a rigid and outdated permitting process.

As indicated above, since last year, our mineral resource dependencies have deepened even further:  According to this year’s USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries, the number of metals and minerals for which the United States is 100% is now pegged at 20. Meanwhile, there are now a whopping 50 metals and minerals for which we are more than 50% import dependent – compared to 43 in 2015.

For those 50, China, which is known to play politics with its resource supplies, is listed 28 times as a major import source — up from 21 times in the previous year.

Our ongoing failure to devise policies aimed at better harnessing our domestic resource potential has deepened our mineral resource dependencies – with real risks and implications for U.S. national security, the resurgence of American manufacturing and our competitiveness in 21st Century high tech innovation.

On a positive note, and in contrast to previous years, it appears that this year’s Mineral Commodity Summaries and the trends it shows have garnered more attention in both media and academia.   Perhaps more national exposure for these issues will help generate some much-needed momentum for the formulation of a comprehensive mineral strategy.  Hopefully, in the midst of our national birthday celebrations, our policy makers are taking note.

Photo credit:
Stephanie McCabe