At no other time in recent memory has the United States needed to invest domestically and be less dependent on foreign products and natural resources. America’s manufacturing and technology sectors are among the highest-paying and fastest growing in the country, and their raw materials could and should be sourced from the United States by American workers. The impacts to consumers and the nation’s economy from the disruptions caused by the coronavirus illustrates the need for domestic production of critical minerals.
In response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, the Department of the Interior established a list of 35 minerals essential to the economic and national security of the United States. The list includes rare earth elements and other metals such as lithium, indium, tellurium, gallium, and platinum group elements. They are used in the smartphones in our pockets, the cars we drive, the computers and televisions we rely on for work and entertainment, alloys for the aerospace and defense industries, integrated circuits and optical devices, medical imaging and research, and hundreds of other applications.
In 2018, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated the total value of critical mineral resources produced to be $82.2 billion. Our nation is a major exporter of some of these minerals, however we rely on other countries for more than 50 percent of most of the minerals that are vital to our economy and security. In fact, the United States relies on imports to meet 50 percent or more of the domestic demand for 31 of the 35 designated critical minerals. We have no domestic production and rely completely on imports to supply the nation’s demand for 14 of those critical minerals, including rare earth minerals, manganese, and cesium – all vital for technology manufacturing and dozens of other applications. In 1984, this total was 11. Today, China dominates the market and supplies the largest number of critical minerals to the United States.
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and the Department of the Interior have been working to ensure the Nation has a reliable supply of critical minerals necessary for our economic prosperity and national security by identifying areas for discovery of new deposits of these minerals and accelerate their possible development on public lands. Other agencies are advancing research and development into recycling and reprocessing technologies for critical minerals, as well as enhancing the nation’s workforce and downstream manufacturing capabilities.
We are one of the few nations who will smartly and efficiently develop these resources responsibly and limit the environmental impact. We’ve made it a priority to streamline the review and approval of critical minerals development projects on BLM managed lands including:
- Approving the Panamint Valley Lithium Exploration Project in Inyo County, California, which is drilling exploratory wells to locate lithium deposits last August.
- Releasing the analysis of the proposed Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Nevada in the next few weeks, which if approved, would employ over 300 employees and contribute approximately $145 million in combined tax revenues.
Full production capacity for the Thacker Pass mine is projected to be 60,000 metric tons per year – which, at current levels, would represent nearly 44 percent of global lithium production and become the second largest lithium project in the world. Global demand for lithium is skyrocketing due to its importance in high-capacity batteries for electric cars, laptops, smartphones and other products. As of now, almost 96 percent of production is concentrated in just four countries: Australia, Chile, Argentina and China.
- Holding a virtual public meeting to discuss the development of an environmental analysis for a proposed dolomite quarry mine in Luna County, New Mexico. Dolomite, a form of Magnesium, is used for multiple applications, including in the construction, metal processing, and chemical industries, and as an ingredient in the production of glass, bricks, and ceramics.
- Approving the expansion of the Lost Creek uranium in-situ recovery project in Sweetwater County, Wyoming in March. The decision allows the mine to expand uranium recovery into the next deeper layer of minerals and onto 5,751 additional surface acres ,for a total project area of 10,005 acres, enabling the company to expand operations and sustain employment for an additional six to eight years, until around 2032.
Through these projects and many others, we continue to champion investment in American industry and infrastructure, by encouraging innovation and responsible multiple use of our public lands. Projects like these underpin our nation’s strong and diverse minerals and energy portfolios, and their benefits will multiply as this Administration encourages new development of our natural resources to embolden American economic growth and national security.
Ending our dependence upon foreign sources for critical minerals will make America safer, more secure, and more prosperous in the years ahead. We are proud to help lead the way.
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