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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
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  • 2018 – A Year of Incremental Progress?

    In case you hadn’t noticed amidst holiday preparations, travel arrangements and the usual chaos of everyday life – 2019 is just around the corner, and with that, the time to reflect on the past twelve months has arrived. So here is ARPN’s recap of 2018:

    Where we began. Unlike previous years, we started 2018 with an unexpected level of optimism on the resource policy front. Not only had USGS released a new study in December of 2017 entitled “Critical Minerals of the United States” which discusses 23 mineral commodities USGS deems critical to the United States’ national security and economic wellbeing, but the report had been followed by what we dubbed “an early Christmas present:” A new executive order directing the Secretary of the Interior to publish a list of critical minerals to be followed by a comprehensive report spearheaded by the Department of Commerce outlining a strategy to alleviate our over-reliance on foreign minerals.

    At last, a list. The DOI List was published in February, with a public comment period running through March. ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty filed two sets of comments, the first identifying a group of “gateway” metals critical for defense applications but absent from the DOI List, and the second articulating the gateway/co-product relationships between metals and minerals on the DOI List. While the gateway metals did not make the cut, we considered the final list, released in May, a “great starting point” leaving the question of “how the U.S. Government can match policy to the priority of overcoming our Critical Minerals deficit.”

    Unfortunately, to date, that question has not fully been answered, and the Secretary of Commerce’s report subsequent to the above-referenced Executive Order has yet to be released. But the stage has been set.

    Progress was made on several other fronts:

    • Public-private partnerships to advance R&D in materials science — which we have been featuring as part of our “Profiles of Progress series” — have yielded positive results and have been expanded to cover additional metals and minerals
    • Awareness of the important inter-relationship of “Gateway Metals” and their “Co-Products,” which we highlighted in our April 2018 report is growing, and is becoming a part of the broader mineral resource policy conversation. See for example Ned Mamula’s and Ann Bridges’s just-released book “Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.
    • A just-outlined partnership agreement between Australia and the United States on critical minerals to foster mineral research and development cooperation between the two countries is a welcome development. It could also serve as a precursor to deepening and revitalizing the National Technology Industrial Base (NTIB), which, established in the 1990s to foster technology links between the U.S. and Canada, was expanded in 2016 to include Australia and the UK.
    • And while there has not been a tangible result in terms of the formulation of a critical minerals strategy, another landmark study released this year has underscored the need for comprehensive reform, specifically from a national security perspective: The long-awaited Defense Industrial Base Review outlined nearly 300 supply chain vulnerabilities and sounded the alarm on China represents a significant and growing risk to the supply of materials deemed strategic and critical to U.S. national security. As one of the ARPN expert panel members phrased it: “Fortunately, the report goes beyond problem identification to provide a Blueprint for Action. Though many of these are locked away in a classified annex to the report, the White House has provided some clues as to how it wishes to proceed.”

    Opportunities and upticks. In terms of trend lines, the rise of battery tech continues to dominate the agenda, as evidenced by the volume of posts on our blog covering this field. And, based on the analysis provided by our friends at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence we expect this development to continue in 2019.

    We have also witnessed an uptick in activity on the trade front in 2018 with tariffs and trade agreements dominating the agenda.

    • Chinese-U.S. tensions escalated in 2018 resulting in the imposition of various tariffs targeting the other nation. Initially included on a provisional list of tariffs to be imposed on Chinese goods released by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this summer, Rare Earth metals and their compounds were ultimately excluded from the final list of tariffs, underscoring the growing awareness of their strategic importance in the United States. Other omissions from the tariff lists give a window into strategic vulnerabilities.
    • The U.S. Administration won agreement to replace NAFTA with the USMCA — the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement in November. The talks had opened a window to drop the so-called Section 232 tariffs — named for a seldom-used section of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act — on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico, which stand in the way of a fully integrated North American defense supply chain and, particularly with regards to Canada “ignore nearly 80 years of deep defense cooperation with our northern neighbor.” Unfortunately, the provision remained intact in the November agreement, but, as ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty recently outlined in a piece for The Hill: “The opportunity is here, to use the momentum generated by the new USMCA agreement as a springboard to take the strategic North American alliance to a new level.”

    Meanwhile, a glaring missed opportunity in 2018 has a silver lining:

    Congressional conferees for the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) failed to retain key critical minerals provisions in the final conference report including the Amodei amendment ARPN followers will be familiar with. And in the one clause in the defense bill that does touch on metals and minerals – a section entitled “Prohibition on acquisition of sensitive materials from non-allied foreign nations” – while cobalt appears as a “sensitive material” (in the form of samarium-cobalt permanent magnets), the list of non-allied foreign nations from which the U.S. is not allowed to acquire the materials does not include DRC Congo.

    However, the NDAA’s Section 873, “Prohibition on acquisition of sensitive materials from non-allied foreign nations,” amends Subchapter V of chapter 148 of title 10, U.S. Code by inserting section 2533c – which, among other things, effectively prevents the Pentagon from sourcing of Rare Earth Magnets from China. This is a potentially precedent-setting provision which Jeffery A. Green, president and founder of J. A. Green & Company and member of the ARPN panel of experts called “the single biggest legislative development in the rare earth sector since the 2010 Chinese embargo created an awareness of our military’s reliance on foreign rare earth materials.”

    On the whole, 2018 stands for incremental progress on the mineral resource policy front. However, how we harness this progress in the coming months will decide how future generations will judge this year in the history books. The potential for meaningful reform is here and the stage is set. The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip away.

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  • The “Indispensable Twins” of Critical Minerals – Niobium and Tantalum

    In the latest installment of his “Critical Minerals Alaska” series for North of 60 Mining News, Shane Lasley zeroes in on what USGS has dubbed the “indispensable twins” – Niobium and Tantalum. Both share “nearly indistinguishable physical and chemical properties” and are “critical to the defense, energy and high-tech sectors.”  Meanwhile, neither Niobium nor Tantalum are mined in the United States, so their inclusion on the recently-released Department of the Interior list of 35 minerals deemed critical to U.S. national security and the economy should come as no surprise.

    Standouts among Niobium’s properties are its “toughness, resistance to corrosion and high melting point [which] makes it an important alloy to steel that will be used in situations where durability is vital.” Its extreme heat resistance when alloyed with steel makes it a key ingredient for superalloys in jet engines, rockets, gas turbines, and turbochargers.

    Tantalum shares many of Niobium’s characteristics, but, as Lasley writes, it’s “its exceptional capacity to store and release energy” that sets this twin apart, and has resulted in the fact that “50 percent of the tantalum consumed in the United States was used in capacitors and high-power resistors for the electronics sector.”

    Lasley lists several more of the twins’ properties, but for our purposes, suffice it to say they’re indeed quite “indispensable.”

    In spite of the fact that the United States is home to both Niobium and Tantalum deposits, neither of them has been produced domestically since the 1950s.  As a result, the U.S. 100% is import dependent for both, with Brazil (pegged at 72 percent for Niobium, 40 percent for Tantalum minerals) and China (pegged at 23 percent for Tantalum metals) listed as lead suppliers by USGS — leaving domestic industries vulnerable to supply disruptions.

    Thankfully, there is domestic resource potential that – if properly harnessed, could alleviate these vulnerabilities. Lasley points to several deposits in Alaska that show great potential for domestic development of both Niobium and Tantalum, as well as a number of other metals and minerals deemed critical from an economic and national security perspective.

    Whether or not these specific deposits are economically viable remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is that we need a framework conducive to unleashing this kind of domestic resource potential.

    As Mark J. Perry, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus recently wrote for the Washington Examiner:

    “More than ever before, our political and business leaders need to make it clear that foreign dependence is neither the right nor the necessary way, and exposes the U.S. economy to great and unnecessary risks. An ideal minerals policy would limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, and enable U.S. companies to compete in international markets. Environmentalists will likely resist any regulatory rollbacks. But so profound is the case for strengthening U.S. mining of minerals and metals that our highest priority should be the security and economic dividends from a pro-competitiveness agenda.”

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  • A View From Across the Pond: European Resource Policy Through the Prism of a Low-Carbon Vision

    The recently-released Defense Industrial Base study, which once more has underscored the need for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. resource policy, directed its focus on U.S. competitiveness primarily vis-à-vis China. Already vast and resource-rich, the country has demonstrated an insatiable appetite for the world’s mineral resources and has pursued an aggressive strategy to gain access [...]
  • Sweden Tosses Hat Into Ring In Race For Materials Underpinning EV Revolution

    As the race for the metals and minerals driving the electric vehicle revolution heats up, and China continues to jockey for pole position, Sweden is tossing its hat into the ring.  According to recent media reports, the Swedish government has earmarked 10 million kronor ( roughly one million Euros) to explore the option of digging [...]
  • Mamula & Moore on Mineral Resource Policy: Time for a Change in Strategy and Philosophy

    “Why is the United States reliant on China and Russia for strategic minerals when we have more of these valuable resources than both these nations combined?” Stephen Moore, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with Freedom Works, and ARPN expert panel member Ned Mamula, a geoscientist and adjunct scholar at the [...]
  • Perspective: Life Takes 30 Minerals, Your iPhone Requires 75

    It may not be brand new, but this video serves as a good reminder of  why the long overdue mineral resource policy reform debate now underway is so critical. Last Friday, pursuant to December’s Executive Order 13817, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released his draft list of “35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S National [...]
  • Lithium – A Material “Coming of Age” is Case in Point for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    As we have outlined, last month’s executive order on critical minerals could have far-reaching implications for our national security and economic wellbeing.  If you needed a case in point – look no further than Lithium. One of the hottest commodities of the day, Lithium, as ARPN expert panel member and managing director of Benchmark Mineral [...]
  • An Early Christmas Present? New Executive Order Calls for National Strategy to Increase Domestic Resource Development

    Only one day after USGS released its new report “Critical Minerals of the United States” – a study which underscores the United States’ over-reliance on foreign minerals – a new executive order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to publish within 60 days a list of critical minerals to be followed by a report (after another [...]
  • Clear Your Holiday Reading List – USGS Releases “Critical Materials of the United States”

    Too much family? Too much rockin’ around the Christmas tree? If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and sit down with a good book, look no further – USGS has you covered. The agency has just released a new study entitled “Critical Minerals of the United States“ which [...]
  • Nickel – The “Metal That Brought You Cheap Flights” Now “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution”

    Another week, another great infographic by Visual Capitalist – this time on the “Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution” – Nickel. Long an important base metal because of its alloying capabilities, Nickel’s status as a Gateway Metal, yielding access to tech minerals like Cobalt, Palladium, Rhodium and Scandium – all of which are increasingly becoming [...]
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