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New Push to Bolster Critical Mineral Supply Chains to Shore Up Industrial Base Focuses on Permitting, Banning “Bad Actors”

In a guest editorial for the Pennsylvania-based Patriot News, Gen. John Adams, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, president of Guardian Six Consulting and a former deputy U.S. military representative to NATO’s Military Committee, writes that the war in Ukraine, following on the heels of a pandemic that unearthed massive supply chain challenges across many industries, has led to stakeholders finally re-embracing the need for a “robust industrial policy and strategic expansion of the nation’s manufacturing base” after years of neglect.

He writes:

“From our warfighting capabilities to overlooked supply chains—including the personal protective equipment and essential medicines that were in short supply during the height of the pandemic—we’ve come to recognize that an unbalanced focus on efficiency has hollowed out key pieces of American manufacturing.

Countless supply chains are overstretched, and we’ve lost critical slack needed to ramp up production of essential goods and materials when needed. The withering of our industrial base has also created alarming reliance on supply chains controlled by our rivals or—worse yet—our adversaries.

Our extraordinarily dangerous over-reliance on mineral and metal imports—particularly from China—is a case in point.”

While there has been a “groundswell of bipartisan energy to address the minerals problem” – Gen. Adams cites the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the recent invocations of the Defense Production Act – some key issues that would help address said over-reliance on China, such as permitting reform, have yet to be addressed.

The just-introduced Transparency, Accountability, Permitting and Production of (TAPP) American Resources Act, H.R. 1 seeks to bolster U.S. critical mineral supply chains by reducing red tape, entry barriers and redundancies, and reforming the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to provide industry with clearer timelines and more certainty, among other things.

As Adams argues, “[a]s the war in Ukraine underscores, productive capacity is the foundation from which we can project strength and deterrence. It’s also how we can insulate our economy from those who seek to use supply chain dominance to exert undue geopolitical leverage.”

Reforming the U.S. permitting process to meet the national security exigencies of the 21st Century Technology Age is just one side of the coin — insuring that potential adversaries, “bad actors” in the parlance of the newly-unveiled TAPP Act don’t have undue access to domestic resources, is the other.

A provision in TAPP would limit Chinese and other “bad actors’” involvement in the U.S. critical minerals industry:

Sec. 20309 would bar “a mining claimant from the right to use, occupy and conduct operations on Federal land if the Secretary of Interior finds that the claimant has a foreign parent company that has a known record of human rights violations and knowingly operated an illegal mine in another country.”

According to the Daily Caller, “it was not immediately clear if the proposed legislation would impact firms like Lithium Americas, which is only owned in part by Chinese mining giant Gangfeng Lithium through subsidiary GFL International,” and which won federal court approval in 2021 to establish a major lithium mining project in Nevada.

With partisan politics dominating the halls on Capitol Hill, H.R. 1 and its provisions will likely face an uphill battle, but the the focus on permitting reform in general, and the inclusion of Sec. 20309 specifically highlights the fact that stakeholders are beginning to realize that harnessing and protecting domestic assets will be key as the global resource wars enter into the next round.