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New Year’s Resolutions for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

If you’re one of nearly half of all Americans, you will have already made a few New Year’s resolutions for 2018.   Among the most popular are personal betterment goals like “losing weight,” and “exercising more.”  While we’re all for making personal resolutions, at ARPN, we’re more concerned with the goals our policy makers are setting for themselves this year.

After several months that presented us with a number of individual initiatives that represented progress in the mineral resource policy realm, yet still lacked an overarching strategic focus, we ended 2017 on a high note:

On December 19, USGS released its Professional Paper 1802 – the first update in 44 years — entitled “Critical Minerals of the United States” which discusses 23 mineral commodities USGS deems critical to the United States’ national security and economic wellbeing.  Only a day later, a new Executive Order called for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to publish within 60 days a list of critical minerals to be followed by a strategy to reduce our nation’s reliance on critical minerals, among other things.

These early Christmas presents are setting the stage for real reform in mineral resource policy in 2018. However, for meaningful change to take hold, there are a few suggested resolutions all stakeholders – and not just department heads in charge of formulating a mineral resource strategy – should consider making:

Have a national policy conversation 

  • National security, manufacturing, jobs and the economy, alternative energy and technology development:  Policy discussions on all of these priorities are a constant of American political life – yet the minerals and metals that are key to all of these issues receive scant attention.  That’s got to change in 2018.  While agency and department heads are in charge of rolling out a critical minerals strategy, what is needed in the coming months is a broad national conversation about our nation’s mineral needs and our over-reliance on foreign sources of supply, involving a broad variety of stakeholders from both the private and public sectors.


  • The USGS’s “Critical Minerals of the United States” report – which weighs in at a hefty 852 pages – is a must-read document for all stakeholders involved to develop an understanding of U.S. mineral resource needs and sources of supply, and should form the basis for any meaningful policy discussions in 2018.  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.
  • Furthermore, there are a few other studies to be released in the early months of the year, among them the USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries and Behre Dolbear’s survey of mining jurisdictions called “Where to Invest.”
  • For good measure, we’d also like to invite everyone again to read our two policy reports “Reviewing Risk: Critical Metals and National Security” and “Through the Gateway: Gateway Metals and the Foundations of American Technology.”  In terms of sheer page-count, this is the place to start:  Think of them as the Spark Notes of critical minerals strategy.

Zero in on the Gateway Metal/Co-Product Interrelationship

  • This one is wonky, but necessary.  Of the 23 minerals deemed “critical” by USGS several are materials ARPN has frequently discussed as part of our informational campaign to highlight the importance of “Co-Product Metals and Minerals” –  i.e. materials that are generally not mined as stand-alone metals but are mostly “unlocked” in the refining process of their “Gateway Metals.”  Harnessing the interrelationship between Gateway Metals – which include mainstay metals like Copper, Aluminum, Nickel, Tin and Zinc  – and their Co-Products, many of which are increasingly becoming the building blocks of 21st Century technology, should be a focal point of any critical mineral resource strategy.  And while ARPN celebrates the USGS “list of 23,” we have to note that of the 5 Gateway metals, only one – tin – appears on the list, even though the other four – copper, zinc, aluminum and nickel – are “gateways” to more than a half-dozen minerals that do make the USGS list.
  • Ready to learn more?  Aside from our Gateway Metals report, follow this link to Thomas Graedel et al.’s effort to illuminate this issue in their 2015 study entitled “By-product metals are technologically essential but have problematic supply” 

Enact legislation

  • 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.” 

So, our three resolutions come down to:  Discuss, Read – and Act.  Let’s look back at 2018 as the year a new and comprehensive critical minerals strategy helped make the U.S. stronger and safer.

There’s more to be considered, but if policy makers and other stakeholders start with these resolutions, they’ll be well-positioned to “develop a comprehensive federal action plan to encourage domestic resource production, through mining, recycling and reclamation.”