Each year, Mining Engineering publishes the Annual Review of mining activity in the May issue. The report is compiled by experts at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and each year, one of the most shared aspects of the report is a graphic that shows how many nonfuel minerals the United States is import-reliant on (ME May 2018, page 59). In 2016, the United States was 100 percent reliant on 21 minerals and more than 50 percent reliant on 23 more.
Many of these minerals, including some that a crucial to national defense and the emerging green economy are also included in the list of 35 considered critical by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). On May 18, the DOI published its list of critical minerals. This list will be the initial focus of a multi-agency strategy due in August this year to implement President Donald J. Trump's Executive Order to break America's dependence on foreign minerals.
“The expertise of the USGS is absolutely vital to reducing America’s vulnerability to disruptions in our supply of critical minerals,” said Dr. Tim Petty, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science.
The list includes aluminum — used in almost all sectors of the economy; the platinum group metals — used for catalytic agents; rare-earth elements — used in batteries and electronics; tin — used as protective coatings and alloys for steel; and titanium — overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or as a metal alloy.
This list of critical minerals, while “final,” is not intended as a permanent designation of criticality, but will be a dynamic list updated periodically to represent current data on supply, demand, and concentration of production, as well as current policy priorities.
Under the Executive Order, the Commerce Department is responsible for organizing the interagency responses into a final report which is due Aug. 16, 2018, to the President. The report will include:
- a strategy to reduce the nation’s reliance on critical minerals
- the status of recycling technologies
- alternatives to critical minerals
- options for accessing critical minerals through trade with allies and partners
- a plan for improvements to mapping the United States and its mineral resources
- recommendations to streamline lease permitting and review processes,
- ways to increase discovery, production, and domestic refining of critical minerals
This report will, as appropriate, include analyses and strategies to strengthen and sustain the supply chains for all minerals, and analyses and strategies targeted to minerals deemed critical based on this 2018 analysis. For example, because the permitting of minerals development activities is administered under existing mineral disposal laws and regulations, any recommendations to improve permitting processes for critical minerals will improve permitting processes for all minerals administered under the same laws and regulations by the Bureau of Land Management and other Federal land management agencies.
Under the Executive Order, these commodities qualify as “critical minerals” because each has been identified as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material that is essential to the economic and national security of the United States, that has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption, and that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economy or national security.