The partial shutdown of the federal government at the beginning of this year had delayed its release, but last week, USGS published its 2019 Mineral Commodity Summaries. Followers of ARPN will know that we await the publication’s release with somewhat bated breath every year, as especially “Page 6” – the chart depicting U.S. Net Import Reliance – gives us a window into where we stand as a nation in terms of mineral resource security.
We’re not overly surprised, though, to see that there are no major changes compared to last year. The number of metals and minerals for which we are 100% import-dependent may have dropped slightly (from 21 to 18), but a closer look into the footnotes of our favorite chart reveals that for two of the minerals previously included in the 100% import-reliance category, Quartz Chrystal (Industrial) and Thallium USGS states that “not enough information is available to calculate the exact percentage of import dependence” this year. For the third mineral to drop out of the 100% import-reliance category, Yttrium, numbers have dropped to 95% with production in California’s Mountain Pass mine having restarted in the first quarter of 2018. That is a positive development, but hardly a seismic shift in domestic resource development.
The number of metals and minerals for which we are 50% or more than 50% import-dependent is still at 49, down one from 50 – but with the above-referenced caveat of lacking data for two materials – so it may in fact be higher than last year.
The fact of the matter is that U.S net import reliance remains too high, and has – with implications for our economy and national security. USGS’s comparing its net import reliance numbers with the Department of the Interior’s Critical Minerals List, released for the first time in 2017, underscores this:
14 of the 18 mineral commodities with 100% net import reliance were considered “critical” by DOI. 15 of the 30 remaining mineral commodities with imports greater than 50 percent of annual consumption were also reflected on DOI’s list. Aluminum, listed at exactly 50 percent import-reliance on the 2019 Mineral Commodity Summaries, also has “critical mineral” status as per DOI.
Hopefully these findings provide fresh impetus for mineral resource policy reform, for which we saw incremental progress in 2018 – but are still awaiting further steps, including the release of the — by now long-overdue — report by the Department of Commerce subsequent to the 2017 presidential executive order on critical minerals outlining a “broader strategy” and recommending specific policy steps to implement it.