As the U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), another piece of legislation enacted earlier is beginning to bear fruit in the context of strengthening our nation’s critical mineral supply chains.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it had set aside more than $74 million to invest in research and mapping of areas that show potential for critical mineral development under the USGS Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) to be distributed across thirty states.
Most of the funding was contained in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) enacted in the fall of 2021.
Said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who, along with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) was a key champion of the infrastructure package:
“Allowing America’s foreign mineral dependence to continue is not only a risk to our national security but is a hindrance to our ability to maintain a robust domestic supply chain. (…) By improving the research and data surrounding critical minerals, we will be able to better pinpoint what locations in the U.S. hold the greatest opportunities for responsible resource production. We will also further improve our ability to harvest those resources in the most environmentally responsible and sustainable manner possible.”
As supply chain challenges unearthed by the coronavirus pandemic persist, Moscow’s resolve to continue its relentless assault on Ukraine appears unbroken, and resource nationalism is not only rearing its head in South and Central America, but also in Southeast Asia. As such, the need for the United States and its allies to secure critical mineral resource supply chains underpinning 21st century technologies and in particular the shift towards net zero carbon, is becoming more and more pressing.
Last summer, the Biden Administration embraced an “all-of-the-above” critical minerals strategy in its 100 Day Supply Chain review and subsequent policy statements. Efforts to promote closed-loop technologies, recycling and “friend-shoring” have garnered broad-based support, but the same could not be said for initiatives aimed at strengthening domestic resource production and processing, and NIMBY-ism began rearing its head in Washington, DC. However, the urgency of the situation and the mineral intensity of a low carbon future has begun to resonate with stakeholders, particularly as it becomes more evident that “friend-shoring” can be an important piece of the American resource puzzle, but is no panacea.
The invocation of the Defense Production Act in March by President Biden via Presidential Determination to accelerate buildout of domestic supply chains for battery criticals bears testament to this development, and the funding of domestic mapping initiatives via the infrastructure package can further pave the way towards more resource security by helping garner a “better scientific understanding of critical mineral resources available in the country, including minerals found in mine waste materials.”