Unites States President Donald Trump has
called for an end to the country's reliance on foreign sources
of critical minerals, including battery materials and rare
earths, in a move which could be boon to mining juniors.
The US should increase efforts to identify
and exploit domestic resources of critical minerals, Trump said
in an executive order signed on December 20, 2017.
"It shall be the policy of the Federal
government to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to
disruptions in the supply of critical minerals, which
constitutes a strategic vulnerability for the security and
prosperity of the United States," the order said.
"This dependency of the United States on
foreign sources creates a strategic vulnerability for both its
economy and military to adverse foreign government action,
natural disaster and other events that can disrupt supply of
these key minerals," Trump said.
A secretarial order, signed on December
21, directs the US Geological Survey to identify critical
minerals, create a comprehensive geological survey of the US,
and ensure this data is made publicly available.
On December 19, the US Geological Survey
released a separate report which highlighted 23 critical
minerals, including lithium, graphite, cobalt, and rare earth
These minerals were selected based on both
potential risk to their supply, and that they were deemed
important to a "broad range of existing and emerging
technologies, renewable energy, and national security."
Republican congressman Rob Bishop, head of
the house committee on natural resources, greeted the USGS
report with praise. "A country blessed with abundant
mineral resources shouldn’t be mineral-dependent
and vulnerable," he said.
"This is an economic and security threat
that’s festered across administrations for too
Securing supplies for the defense
The move reflects political unease over US
dependence on imported minerals, particularly for use in the
"The United States must not remain reliant
on foreign competitors like Russia and China for the critical
minerals needed to keep our economy strong and our country
safe," Trump said.
"As both a former military commander and
geologist, I know the very real national security risk of
relying on foreign nations for the military’s
needs to keep our soldiers and our homeland safe," US Secretary
of the Interior Ryan Zinke said.
Included on the list of critical minerals
are the key components in electric batteries, lithium, cobalt,
and graphite. None of these materials are produced in large
quantities within the US.
China is by far the top graphite miner and
exporter, and the top refiner of cobalt, which is mostly mined
in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
China has also been ramping up its lithium
mining and refining capacity rapidly, to meet growing demand
from the battery sector.
The government initiative could be good
news for graphite and lithium juniors, who are currently
looking for production opportunities within the US.
"President Trump’s Executive
Order could be a game-changer," Anthony Huston, chief executive
officer of mining junior Graphite One, told Industrial
Minerals. "With graphite on the new US Geological
Survey’s list of critical minerals, and with the
US 100% dependent on foreign-sourced graphite, we believe we
will be at the front edge of any efforts by the US government
to encourage critical mineral development".
Political concerns have been also been
raised on the reliance of the US on Chinese rare earths.
The large majority of the
world’s rare earths are produced in China, and
they are used in a wide range of technical applications,
including high-tech military equipment.
Trump’s executive order was
hailed by Joe Manchin, Democratic senator for West Virginia,
who has championed the recovery of rare earths from coal,
introducing a bill to fund research into that technology in
Manchin said the bill was "a critical step
toward re-establishing a US domestic supply for these products
that will make our nation less vulnerable to potential supply
But despite the government’s
ambitions to increase domestic production of these minerals,
the plan is not without its obstacles.
Exploitable domestic reserves of graphite,
lithium, and cobalt are limited. And the US has historically
had only one major rare earth oxide mine, Mountain Pass in
California. The facility, which is currently mothballed due to
low profitability, was bought by a Chinese-led consortium in
July 2017, but has yet to be returned to production.
The mining industry has also long lobbied
for permitting reform, to streamline the process of turning
identified resources into productive mines.
The executive order states that it will be
the policy of the government to tackle dependence on imported
minerals by "streamlining leasing and permitting processes to
expedite exploration, production, processing, reprocessing,
recycling, and domestic refining of critical minerals".
Responsibility for reforming the mine permitting process lies
with the legislature, with bills on this subject currently
working their way through both Senate and Congress.