Trump declares critical mineral emergency
Signs order to shift supply away from foreign adversaries Metal Tech News – October 1, 2020
Last updated 10/13/2020 at 5:05pm
President Donald Trump has declared America's heavy reliance on adversarial nations for critical minerals a national emergency that threatens the security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.
The President made this emergency declaration in the Sept. 30 "Executive order on addressing the threat to the domestic supply chain from reliance on critical minerals from foreign adversaries."
Trump says, "a strong America cannot be dependent on imports from foreign adversaries for the critical minerals that are increasingly necessary to maintain our economic and military strength in the 21st century."
In addition to the supply vulnerabilities posed by import reliance, the executive order points out that domestic production of critical minerals will reduce dependence on countries that do not abide by American standards for human rights, child and forced labor, and environment. Homegrown critical mineral mines and supply chains would also provide jobs and bolster America's economy.
Critical minerals have long been a concern for the President, who signed Executive Order 13817 "A federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals" in 2017.
This executive directive instructed the secretaries of Interior and Defense to identify and publish a list of critical minerals, then develop a strategy to reduce the United States' reliance on other nations to supply these increasingly important ingredients to America's defensive and economic security.
Following the 2017 executive order, the U.S. Geological Survey laid out criteria for defining critical minerals and the Department of Interior compiled a list of 35 minerals, metals and groups of elements considered critical to the U.S. under the definition.
Rare earth elements, graphite, gallium, and barite are among the commodities on the criticality list.
These and the other 31 minerals and metals on the list are necessary components for countless items relied on by millions of Americans, including smartphones, aircraft, computers, and GPS navigation systems, as well as green technologies such as wind turbines, energy efficient lighting and electric vehicles.
According to Mineral Commodity Summaries 2020, an annual report published by the USGS, America depends on foreign countries for more than 50% of its supply of 30 minerals deemed critical to the U.S., including 100% import-reliant for 14 of them.
"Our dependence on one country, the People's Republic of China, for multiple critical minerals is particularly concerning," Trump penned in the Sept. 30 executive order.
To curb this dependence on China and other foreign adversaries, the Trump order calls on federal agencies to look into ways to bolster critical minerals mining and processing in the U.S. and allied nations.
The White House said this will include funding, as well as an alleviation of permitting delays for critical mining projects in the U.S.
"We will put our miners back to work," vowed Trump.
Particularly critical minerals
While the U.S. is net import reliant on 30 critical minerals, the Trump executive order names five of particular concern, including rare earth elements.
The U.S. currently imports roughly 80% of its rare earths, a group of 17 elements with special properties vital to a wide array of modern technologies, directly from China. This percentage is higher when considering that most of the rest of the rare earths coming into the U.S. originated in the Middle Kingdom before passing through another country.
China's rise to near total dominance in rare earth production began in the 1980s. Realizing at the time how critical these elements were to emerging technologies, the Middle Kingdom flooded the global market with rare earths and consolidated the production of these technology elements within its borders.
"Since gaining this advantage, China has exploited its position in the rare earth elements market by coercing industries that rely on these elements to locate their facilities, intellectual property, and technology in China," according to the critical minerals emergency order signed by Trump. "For instance, multiple companies were forced to add factory capacity in China after it suspended exports of processed rare earth elements to Japan in 2010, threatening that country's industrial and defense sectors and disrupting rare earth elements prices worldwide."
In addition to rare earths, the executive order names barite, gallium, and graphite as critical minerals that the U.S. is heavily dependent on China for its supply.
America imports more than 75% of the barite it consumes, and over 50% of its barite imports come from China.
Deriving its name from the Ancient Greek word for heavy, owing to an exceptionally high specific gravity for a non-metallic mineral, barite is critically important to fracking, a technology that is vital to America's energy independence of the United States.
The U.S. is 100% dependent on imports of its gallium needs, and China produces roughly 95% of the global supply. Gallium-based semiconductors are indispensable for cellphones, blue and violet light-emitting diodes (LEDs), diode lasers, and 5G telecommunications.
America is also 100% reliant on imports for its graphite, which is currently the primary anode material in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, and stores power from intermittent renewable energy sources.
China produces over 60% of the world's graphite and nearly all the world's production of high-purity graphite needed for rechargeable batteries.
Declaring an emergency
Trump said the heavy dependance on imports for critical minerals makes the U.S. vulnerable to adverse foreign government action, natural disaster, or other supply disruptions.
"I therefore determine that our nation's undue reliance on critical minerals, in processed or unprocessed form, from foreign adversaries constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat," Trump penned in the executive order.
To address this emergency, the order directs Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt to submit a report to the President within 60 days that outlines recommended executive action, which may include the imposition of tariffs or quotas, other import restrictions against China and other foreign adversaries whose economic practices threaten to undermine the wellbeing of the U.S.
The Secretary of the Interior has also been charged with informing the President of the state of the threat posed by America's reliance on critical minerals from foreign adversaries and recommend any additional actions necessary to address that threat by Jan. 1 and every 180 days thereafter.
Reports on the critical minerals national emergency are also to be made available to Congress.
The executive order also directs federal agencies to prioritize the expansion and protection of domestic critical mineral supply chains, as well as working with allied nations and companies to establish international supply chains that are not dependent on adversaries.
On the international front, the emergency order directs Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to submit a report detailing existing and planned policy options for cooperation with foreign partners and allies on the minerals deemed critical to the U.S.
Due on the President's desk by mid-November, this report is expected to include policy options to reduce U.S. critical mineral vulnerability through cooperation and coordination with allies, including those in the private sector; help allied nations build reliable critical mineral supply chains within their territories; promote responsible minerals sourcing; and reduce U.S. dependence on minerals produced using methods that do not adhere to responsible mining standards.
The Trump order also calls on several federal agencies to investigate various policy and tools already available to provide funding grants and funding for critical mineral projects; streamline permitting of the projects along the critical mineral supply chain; and encourage the development and reuse of historical coal waste areas, material on historic mining sites, and abandoned mining sites for the recovery of critical minerals.
Through these actions, the White House hopes to reduce the dependence on adversaries for the minerals critical to the economic wellbeing and security of the U.S.