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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • 2020 Mineral Commodity Summaries:  Domestic Mineral Resource Production Increases While Foreign Dependencies Continue

    Last week, USGS released its 43rd Mineral Commodity Summaries – a comprehensive snapshot of global mineral production which gives us a window into where we stand as a nation in terms of mineral resource security.  

    Perhaps most instructive from an ARPN perspective is the chart depicting U.S. Net Import Reliance — previously casually referred to as “Page 6,” on our blog, but now moved to “Page 7.”  Maybe we’ll just call it the Blue Wall of Dependency, based on the many blue bars showing 100% import-dependence — which is down one from 2019 (a quick look into the footnotes of our favorite chart reveals that this is owed to Thorium being added to the category of metals and minerals for which “not enough information is available to calculate the exact percentage of import reliance”), but still totals 17.

    As followers of ARPN know, we have seen some incremental progress towards reducing our mineral resource dependencies, and particularly our over-reliance on metals and minerals from China, over the past two years. However, meaningful changes will take time. 

    There is a slight overall decrease in the number of metals and minerals for which we are 50% or more than 50% import-dependent — an area where we are down from 49 to 47. However, this drop, too, must be taken with a grain of NaCl.  For example, whereas in previous reports, iron oxide pigments were separated into two separate categories (natural and synthetic), these were combined into one category for the 2020 report.  Arguably significant drops can be noted for our dependencies for foreign supplies of Lithium and Aluminum (to >25% for Lithium and 22% for Aluminum).  And while our import reliance for Nickel has dropped to 47%, we are now dependent at a rate greater than 50% for Magnesium compounds.   Also notable, our reliance for Cobalt — a critical component of Electric Vehicle battery technology — has gone up from 61% to 78%.

    Once more, our favorite chart underscores that much remains to be done to reduce our mineral resource dependencies.  China continues to be the elephant in the data room, and is listed 25 times as one of the major import sources of metals and minerals for which our net import reliance is 50% or greater.

    On a positive note, the 2020 Mineral Commodity Summaries notes that domestic metal mine production has increased to $28.1 billion, which is almost $500 million higher than in 2018.  Perhaps most encouraging, a significant increase in domestic production has occurred in the Rare Earth mineral concentrates segment, where USGS notes that “the domestic production of critical rare-earth mineral concentrates increased by 8,000 metric tons (over 44%) in 2019 to 26,000 metric tons, making the U.S. the largest producer of rare-earth mineral concentrates outside of China.”  Yet all of the U.S.-produced rare earths concentrate was exported to China for separation into individual rare earth elements, since that portion of the supply chain doesn’t exist in the U.S.

    Hopefully, these findings provide fresh impetus for mineral resource policy reform, for which we have seen incremental progress since 2018. 

    To read the full USGS report, click here.

    For previous iterations, click here.

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  • A Mineral Resource Policy for 2020 – New Year’s Resolutions for Resource Policy Stakeholders

    We realize that New Year’s resolutions are somewhat controversial.  Some say, they‘re not worth the paper they’re written on – but we feel that whether or not we implement all of them, they offer a good opportunity to both step back to reflect and set goals as we look at the big picture ahead. And that certainly can’t hurt. 

    With several positive stage-setting steps taken in 2018, 2019 continued to bring a number of positive developments in the realm of mineral resource policy.  

    However, while we appear to be headed in the right direction — towards an all-of-the-above approach in mineral resource policy as outlined in our 2019 recap — most of the resolutions we spelled out last January remain stubbornly valid 365 days later (though not without some tweaks or additions). 

    Without further ado, here’s our updated list of suggested new year’s resolutions for resource policy stakeholders:

    Continue the National Policy Conversation 

    Against the backdrop of the specter of China playing the “rare earths card” setting off alarm bells and the intensifying the battery arms race, the Commerce Department released the long-awaited interagency Commerce Department report pursuant to Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals released in June 2019 at a critical juncture.

    There are indications that it may have served as a catalyst for policy makers across the political aisle to understand the urgency of securing mineral resource supply chains, and the need at long last for a more comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy. In an increasingly toxic political climate in Washington, D.C., it is important that policy makers work to ensure that partisanship does not impede the advancement of policy solutions because, as ARPN‘s Dan McGroarty noted during a recent panel discussion:

    “We can’t admire the problem anymore. We don’t have the luxury of time.

    This past summer, just as it did in 2010, the Rare Earths issue has once again re-introduced non-fuel mineral resource issues into the mainstream political discourse.  This growing awareness of our nation‘s mineral resource woes should be harnessed — and stakeholders should work to change the sentiment that “neither [political] parties’ base sees critical minerals as such a dire threat.”

    Read!

    The above referenced Commerce report – coupled with studies released in 2018 (DoI‘s Critical Minerals List and DoD‘s Defense Industrial Base Review) – represents must-read material for all stakeholders involved to develop an understanding of U.S. mineral resource needs and associated supply challenges and should form the basis for any meaningful policy discussions in 2020.   USGS‘s 2017 “Critical Minerals of the United States” should also be required reading.  

    We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: “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.”

    Don‘t Forget the Gateway/Co-Product Interrelationship

    2019 was a fast-paced year on the mineral resource front.   And with China‘s Rare Earths saber-rattling and the intensifying battery arms race revolving primarily around cobalt, lithium, graphite and nickel, it might be easier to focus attention on just a handful metals and minerals.   

    However, we must continue to look at the bigger picture. Courtesy of the materials science revolution, Gateway metals – which include mainstay metals like Copper, Aluminum, Nickel, Tin and Zinc  – and their Co-Products are increasingly becoming the building blocks of 21st Century technology. Their interrelationship should be factored into any mineral resource policy discussion.

    (Read our 2018 “Through the Gateway” report here.)

    Enact Legislation

    Some legislative progress was made in 2019 (see our recap), however Congress failed once more to pass key critical minerals provisions.  Congress should make an effort to finally pass these common sense provisions in 2020.

    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.” 

    Again, it’s all about harnessing momentum.  As E&E’s Dylan Brown wrote discussing a recent U.S. House hearing on critical mineral issues: “They are split on solutions, but many Republicans and Democrats share national security concerns about growing reliance on foreign countries, in particular China, for a slew of minerals used in military and renewable energy technology.”

    Factor Resource Policy Into Trade Policy – and Vice Versa

    2018 brought the inter-relationship between trade and resource policy to the forefront with  U.S.-imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico weighing on the negotiations surrounding the USMCA trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.  The tariffs were ultimately removed in 2019, but the agreement signed in December between Canada, Mexico and the United States may open the door to increased metal imports from China via Mexico as its amended rules of origin for automobiles include tighter definitions of what constitutes North American steel — but not of what constitutes North American aluminum.

    In 2019, the inter-relationship between trade and resource policy became even clearer in the context of the U.S.-Chinese trade war.  The specter of China rare earths as an economic weapon has revealed that the current trade war between the U.S. and China is in fact one front in a larger tech war – a competition to see which country will dominate the 21st Century Technology Age, in which our “Achilles’ heel” is our over-reliance on foreign metals and minerals underpinning 21st Century technology and China’s dominance across the supply chains for many of them.

    Against this backdrop, the U.S. has stepped up its cooperative efforts with close allies and reliable trading partners — a trend stakeholders should build on in the coming months.  The bottom line is that policy-making cannot occur in a vacuum.  Trade issues should inform mineral resource policy and vice versa. 

    Once more, our 2020 resolutions come down to:  

    Discuss, Read – and Act.  

    And while there is some debate on whether 2020 represents the beginning of the new decade or not we have every hope that we‘ll continue on the positive trajectory towards a comprehensive mineral resource policy — one that, when we look back on 2020, will mark this year as beginning of our journey to American resource independence. 

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  • 2019 in Review – Towards an “All-Of-The-Above” Approach in Mineral Resource Policy?

    We blinked, and 2020 is knocking on our doors. It’s been a busy year on many levels, and mineral resource policy is no exception. So without further ado, here’s our ARPN Year in Review. Where we began: In last year’s annual recap, we had labeled 2018 as a year of incremental progress, which had set [...]
  • Sustainably Greening the Future – Changes in Mining Technology for the New Decade

    Irrespective of where you come down on the political spectrum, there is no denying that we find ourselves in the midst of a green energy transition. At ARPN, we have long made the case that the current push towards a lower-carbon future is not possible without mining, as green energy technology relies heavily on a [...]
  • Lithium: Battery Arms Race Powers R&D Efforts in Quest for Domestic Mineral Resources

    As the “tech wars” gear up and the “battery arms race” shifts in to higher gears, efforts to promote the securing of domestic critical mineral supply chains are not only underway in policy circles in Washington, DC, but in the private sector as well.  Companies including the world’s top diversified miners are intensifying their R&D efforts [...]
  • Against Backdrop of Battery Arms Race, Chemists Receive Nobel Prize for Work on Lithium-Ion Technology

    Critical minerals are a hot button issue.  Materials that long seemed obscure like Rare Earths, Lithium, Cobalt, Graphite, and Nickel have entered the mainstream and are making headlines every day.   Against the backdrop of the ongoing materials science revolution and the intensifying battery arms race, it is only fitting that this month, three pioneers of Lithium-ion battery technology [...]
  • With Rare Display of Bipartisanship in Congress and Resource Partnership Announcement With Allied Nations, Momentum Building for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    Late last week, we witnessed the formal announcement of a forthcoming roll out of an “action plan” to counter Chinese dominance in the critical minerals sector during Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s week-long state visit to the U.S.. According to news reports the plan will “open a new front against China in a widening technology and trade war by exploiting [...]
  • Back to Basics – The “What?,” “Why?” And “Why Now?” On Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    China, trade, rare earths, EV battery technology, greening our energy future, resource dependence … there are lots of buzzwords these days surrounding mineral resource policy. And while there is a lot more interest in critical mineral issues these days – for good reason – there is also a lot of misinformation out there. In a [...]
  • Mamula and Bridges: Hardrock “Modernization” Bills Could Do More Harm Than Good

    “Does America stand for self-reliance and innovative discovery of critical minerals for our economy and national defense and security? Or will Congress drive the fatal stake through the heart of our struggling domestic metals mining industry?” According to a new Washington Examiner piece by Cato Institute Adjunct Scholar in Geosciences and ARPN expert panel member [...]
  • Happy 4th of July! The Road to Resource Independence

    Another trip around the sun, and once again we find ourselves stocking up for barbecues, fireworks and parades in honor of the men and women who have fought on our behalf, and continue our safeguard our freedom today. We’ve always used the occasion of Independence Day to remind ourselves that “while we cherish the freedom we [...]

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