- - Monday, September 9, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Just as energy independence is fundamental to our nation’s security, reducing our dependence upon foreign countries for critical minerals is vital to our nation’s long-term interests. Prior to the Trump Administration, the policies coming out of Washington were marginalizing the energy, manufacturing and mining industries and, as a result, ultimately diminishing our country’s security. Those days are over.

In 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, with the goals of better protecting our economy from marketplace disruptions and becoming less dependent upon unreliable foreign sources. Under this Order, the Department of the Interior identified 35 “critical minerals” — such as cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese and rare earth elements — which are used in cell phones, batteries, computers, automobiles, airplanes, solar panels, ships and military equipment. The U.S. is more than 50 percent import-reliant on 31 of the 35 designated minerals and does not have any domestic production for 14 of these critical minerals, making us completely reliant on imports for the latter.

Critical minerals are used in military technologies and across our economy. A single set of military tactical equipment contains at least 23 of those 31 minerals; these are used to make night vision goggles, communications gear, GPSs and M4 carbines. Over half of all components of a typical cell phone or other high-tech consumer device are made from mined or semi-processed minerals used for electronics, speakers, displays, batteries and other products. Manufacturing demand is increasing for critical minerals, including rare earth elements, used for numerous advanced technology products that fuel economic growth. We all depend on critical minerals, and America shouldn’t depend upon foreign countries for what can be sourced at home — both on and offshore.

The President’s Order called on Federal agencies to develop a plan to reduce our country’s reliance on foreign sources and supply chains. The Trump Administration announced a Federal Strategy earlier this year listing 61 agency-level recommendations to be executed over the next five years. This strategy guides our efforts at the Department of the Interior, where we are actively working on locating domestic supplies of these minerals, facilitating their study and production, and expediting the permit processes for these minerals projects. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are all collaborating with the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, State, Agriculture, the U.S. Trade Representative, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and other federal partners.

Because less than 18 percent of the U.S. land mass is geologically mapped at a scale suited to characterizing mineral deposits, the USGS will develop new geophysical, geological and topographical maps. The USGS will also provide existing data to BLM and other partners for permitting and resource management decisions.



BLM administers over 245 million surface acres of public land in 12 Western states and Alaska as well as 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate. Critical minerals are found on some of this acreage. Under its “multiple-use” mandate, BLM will work with local communities, project developers, and public and private stakeholders to promote environmentally responsible mineral development on Federal and Indian lands.

Although offshore, underwater mining is an unexplored frontier in mineral production — we do know that minerals are found off the Pacific, Atlantic and Alaskan coasts. BOEM leads the way with pursuing research and development capabilities, and they will be collaborating with the Department of Energy to identify mineral reserves offshore.

The Department of the Interior is providing the necessary science, mapping and information to help ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals so products we use every day can be “Made in America.” Responsibly developing America’s critical mineral resources will allow us to reduce our foreign dependence, increase our global competitiveness, make our country more secure and promote American prosperity.

David L. Bernhardt is the 53rd Secretary of the Interior. He leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees who are stewards for 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands. The department oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters, is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states, and upholds trust responsibilities to the 573 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

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