An executive order from the White House concerning critical minerals was published in December 2017, but then it was highlighted again in recent weeks. Part of this order included the declaration of a national emergency and the opening of an investigation into “our Nation’s undue reliance on critical minerals, in processed or unprocessed form, from foreign adversaries.”
The president wrote that he believed that a “strong America” can’t be dependent on imports from “foreign adversaries for the critical minerals.” The White House noted that these minerals are vital toward maintaining our economic and military strength for the 21st century, and this is why he signed Executive Order 13817 of December 20, 2017: A Federal Strategy To Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals. Of course, 2017 was a while back, but he just recently announced the signing of that order back in September — most likely for political reasons.
In this announcement, Trump said that the Secretary of Interior is required to identify critical minerals and made it the policy of the federal government to “to reduce the Nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals.” He also said that the Secretary of Interior conducted a review with the help of other departments and agencies and they’ve identified 35 critical minerals. These minerals are “essential to the economic and national security of the United States,” and have supply chains that are vulnerable to disruption.” They also serve “an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for our economy or our national security.”
In his White House blog post, Trump said that these critical minerals are necessary inputs for the products that our military, national infrastructure, and economy depend on. He pointed out that we use these minerals in creating a variety of items, ranging from airplanes to electronic devices. He also stressed the fact that America doesn’t have the capacity to produce these minerals in processed form in the amount that we need. Our producers depend on foreign countries to supply and process them. He said that the US imports more than half of its annual consumption of 31 of the 35 minerals. We also have no domestic production for 14 of the critical minerals and we are completely dependent on imports to supply the demand. The list, published in May 2018, is as follows:
- aluminum (bauxite)
- graphite (natural)
- platinum group metals
- the rare earth elements group
As you can see, some of those minerals (lithium and cobalt, for example) are used in electric vehicle batteries. There is no mention of nickel, which seems to be what Tesla needs most these days. However, if deemed necessary, this or other minerals could be added to the list. “This list of critical minerals, while “final,” is not a permanent list, but will be dynamic and updated periodically to reflect current data on supply, demand, and concentration of production, as well as current policy priorities.”
Trump Takes Aim At China — Again
It’s no secret that Trump doesn’t like China (even though he’s been paying far more taxes there than in the US), and he stressed that our dependence on China for many of the critical minerals is “particularly concerning.” He also said that the US “imports 80 percent of its rare earth elements directly from China, with portions of the remainder indirectly sourced from China through other countries.” He also blamed China for the US stopping its production of some of these minerals back in the ’80s.
“China used aggressive economic practices to strategically flood the global market for rare earth elements and displace its competitors. Since gaining this advantage, China has exploited its position in the rare earth elements market by coercing industries that rely on these elements to locate their facilities, intellectual property, and technology in China. For instance, multiple companies were forced to add factory capacity in China after it suspended exports of processed rare earth elements to Japan in 2010, threatening that country’s industrial and defense sectors and disrupting rare earth elements prices worldwide.”
Trump then focused on barite (which I found interesting because I have some). According to Trump, the US imports over 75% of the barite it consumes, and over 50% of the imported barite comes from China. Barite, Trump noted, is a very important mineral used for fracking, making it “vital to the energy independence of the United States.” Barite (also spelled baryte) is a barium sulfate mineral that sometimes has small amounts of strontium. It’s often colorless, white or grey (in my experience), but it comes in a variety of colors. It’s also an ore of the element barium and a key component in the manufacture of paper and rubber. It’s also used in radiology for x-rays of the digestive system. When crushed and added to mud, it is poured over oil wells during drilling.
According to Minerals.net, Barite is very common and is found in “thousands of localities throughout the world,” including the US. Well-known US barite localities include:
- Palos Verdes Hills, Los Angeles County, California.
- The Magma Mine, Pinal County, Arizona.
- The Linwood Quarry, Buffalo, Scott County, Iowa.
- Elk Creek, Meade County, South Dakota.
- Cave In Rock, Hardin County, Illinois. (often found with fluorite)
- Elmwood Mine, Smith County, Tennessee.
- Meikle Mine, Elko County, Nevada.
- Book Cliffs, Grand Junction, Mesa County, Colorado.
Gallium is another mineral/metal Trump mentioned. He said that 95% of the global supply is produced by China. “For these and other critical minerals identified by the Secretary of the Interior, we must reduce our vulnerability to adverse foreign government action, natural disaster, or other supply disruptions. Our national security, foreign policy, and economy require a consistent supply of each of these minerals,” he wrote.
Due to the fact that China produces many of the minerals and Trump doesn’t particularly like China, he declared a national emergency on this matter. “I, therefore, determine that our Nation’s undue reliance on critical minerals, in processed or unprocessed form, from foreign adversaries constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”
Trump also stated that the US needs to enhance its mining and processing capacity — even for minerals that are not identified as critical or included in the national emergency declared in his order. He thinks that if we focus on mining and expanding our processing capacity, America will be protected from the possibility of supply chain disruptions and future attempts by our enemies (another dig at China) to harm our economy and our military readiness.
We will see how a President Biden adopts and evolves this list and this push to mine and process more of these minerals in the US.