• December 16, 2021

    Secretary Haaland Gives a Glimmer of Hope on Strategic Minerals

    Matt Letourneau

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland gave an early Christmas present last week when she suggested in a California meeting that the U.S. government may allow mining for critical minerals on public lands. 

Critical minerals are defined in the United States as 35 mineral commodities considered critical to the economic and national security of the nation. Of the 28 on the list identified by the government, 28 are at least 50 percent imported, leaving the U.S. highly vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. The lack of production and processing of these minerals in the U.S. is at least in some cases more by choice than by necessity, as our nation has reserves which are currently not being mined. Mining often faces environmental opposition, among other obstacles. 

America’s future—and national interest—depends on access to more than just those elements on the critical mineral list.  A much wider array of strategic mineral production and processing is increasingly crucial for national defense, advanced energy, and telecommunications platforms just to name a few.

These minerals are a constant presence in our daily lives—in everything from our smartphone to our televisions to communications and satellite systems. On the energy front, critical minerals have taken on increasing importance due to their presence in batteries, electric motors, solar panels, and wind turbines.  If the U.S. is to come even close to the ambitious climate and energy goals laid out by the Biden Administration, it will need vast mineral resources to do so. 

It is therefore notable that in response to a request from Utah Governor Spencer Cox asking the Department of Interior to clarify its position on the domestic mining of critical minerals—most of which are on federal lands in Utah—Secretary Haaland responded with:

“Of course, its absolutely imperative that if we’re looking for a way forward that we can do it here in this country…that is absolutely a conversation that we’re always willing to have.”

Perhaps not an unequivocal yes, but the most optimistic comments that the Secretary has made on the topic. 

The Chamber has been outspoken on the need for the U.S. to ramp up its efforts on strategic minerals.  In fact, just prior to the Secretary’s comments, GEI President Marty Durbin sent a letter to the U.S. Geological Survey, which is working on updates to the critical minerals list. The letter contained a number of recommendations on steps the Administration should take including:

  • Ensure That Critical Minerals Designations are Appropriately Broad, and that the Designation Process Includes Consideration of Strategic Minerals and their Applications. The government should take a broad view on the definition of a critical mineral. Given supply chain challenges, minerals such as copper should be included in the designated critical minerals list even though it currently is not.
  • Fund Critical Mineral Research. $320 million for Earth Mapping Resources was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, so those funds and others should be fully utilized. 
  • Permitting Reform. The federal government must reduce the delays and uncertainties associated with the permitting process to approve critical mineral mining projects and infrastructure.
  • Promote Investment in Domestic Supply Chains. The Administration should support legislation that promotes the ability of U.S. companies to successfully enter the strategic and critical minerals market.
  • Pursue a Multilateral Effort to Diversify Supply Chains. The Administration should work with allies to develop cooperative agreements and encourage close allies and partner nations to become producers of strategic and critical minerals.
  • Promote Environmentally Sound Domestic Production. The federal government should openly support and broadcast the importance of environmentally sound domestic U.S. mining as a key pillar to securing a critical material supply chain
  • Streamline Review of Investment from Trusted Nations. Use existing authority to streamline the review process to allow companies from trusted nations to undertake investment in critical minerals.
  • Invest in Deep-Sea Mineral Extraction. The U.S. should support investment in additional processing capabilities and provide research and development incentives to support environmentally responsible deep-sea minerals extraction.
  • Preserve Access to Foreign Markets. While geopolitical relationships with some countries may be complex and even tenuous at times, access to these countries’ markets is critical for U.S. companies. The Chamber requests that the Administration take a measured approach that focuses on diversification of supply chains, rather than decoupling.

Addressing the strategic mineral supply chain will require a concerted effort from government. Spurring domestic production of minerals would be a step in the right direction, and the Chamber will continue to advocate for this and our other recommendations to address these challenges. 

Take a closer look at growing concerns over energy supply risks of critical minerals in our analysis, Will Lithium Become the Petroleum of the 21st Century?