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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 Australian reserves of the rare earths and other materials that are essential for products ranging from iPhones to batteries and hybrid cars.”

Partnerships with reliable allies like Australia will go far — but they must be complemented by increased domestic production of critical minerals in the United States.   As ARPN expert panel member and president and founder of government relations firm J.A. Green & Co. Jeff Green wrote in a recent piece for Real Clear Politics  — if policymakers want to get serious about securing U.S. access to rare earths, “any real solution must include investing in our domestic production capabilities.” 

Thankfully, as the tech wars deepen, calls for increasing U.S. domestic production of critical minerals ranging from those underpinning the battery tech revolution to the Rare Earths that have filled headlines in recent months, are getting louder. 

Chairing a full Senate Committee hearing to “examine the sourcing and use of minerals needed for clean energy technologies,” earlier last week U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in her opening remarks: 

“Minerals are the fundamental building blocks for any modern technology, but they don’t just appear out of thin air. As our energy sector transitions to greater use of renewables, we must acknowledge that these technologies are built from materials that come from the ground. Batteries don’t work without lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel; solar panels require silver gallium, indium, tellurium; and wind turbines are not just built from steel, but also aluminum, copper, and rare earth elements.”

Witnesses testifying at the hearing, during the course of which Sen. Murkowski released a Congressional Research Service Report comparing global forecasts for minerals used in renewable technologies, told Senators that the renewable energy transition must involve greater investment in the domestic mining of critical minerals, including the rare earths.

The question and answer session following the prepared expert remarks saw an unusual display of bipartisanship amongst Senators all of whom agreed that a more “holistic approach” to critical mineral resource policy was warranted and that when it comes to critical minerals extracting, processing, recycling… now is our call to action. 

Ultimately, whether or not the U.S. can unleash its own mineral potential and compete with China in the tech wars of the 21st Century will depend on policy makers’ ability to come together. As Sen. Murkowski stated:

“The United States is capable of being a leader in the development of the minerals needed for clean energy technologies. We have incredible high-grade deposits in states like Alaska, but we have also ceded production, manufacturing, and recycling to our competitors. (…) We have to find the political will to advance policies that allow us to rebuild a robust domestic supply chain. Until we do that, our nation’s ability to develop and lead the world in renewable energy will be limited.”

The momentum is here. Let’s hope stakeholders seize it.