U.S. moves to lessen dependence on foreign-sourced rare earth materials

Addressing vulnerabilities in the critical minerals supply chain through an increase in domestic exploration, production, recycling, reprocessing, industry incentives, and research and development (R&D) investments would help reduce the U.S. reliance on imports, preserve our leadership in technological innovation, support job creation, and improve our national security and balance of trade. Implementing these investments and policies also enhances the technological superiority and readiness of our Armed Forces, which are among the United States’ largest and most important consumers of critical minerals.

To address the risk to critical mineral supply chains, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13817, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.” The order states:

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 United States will further this policy for the benefit of the American people and in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, by:

(a) identifying new sources of critical minerals;

(b) increasing activity at all levels of the supply chain, including exploration, mining, concentration, separation, alloying, recycling, and reprocessing critical minerals;

(c) ensuring that our miners and producers have electronic access to the most advanced topographic, geologic, and geophysical data within U.S. territory to the extent permitted by law and subject to appropriate limitations for purposes of privacy and security, including appropriate limitations to protect critical infrastructure data such as those related to national security areas; and

(d) streamlining leasing and permitting processes to expedite exploration, production, processing, reprocessing, recycling, and domestic refining of critical minerals.”

The Executive Order directed the Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and other heads of relevant U.S. Government executive branch agencies, to develop a list of critical minerals. On 18 May 2018, DOI, in consultation with other Federal agencies and after review of public comments, published a list of 35 critical minerals. 

The Executive Order also directed the Secretary of Commerce, in coordination with heads of selected executive branch agencies, to submit a report containing the following:

(i) “a strategy to reduce the Nation’s reliance on critical minerals;

(ii) an assessment of progress toward developing critical minerals recycling and reprocessing technologies, and technological alternatives to critical minerals;

(iii) options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with our allies and partners;

(iv) a plan to improve the topographic, geologic, and geophysical mapping of the United States and make the resulting data and metadata electronically accessible, to the extent permitted by law and subject to appropriate limitations for purposes of privacy and security, to support private sector mineral exploration of critical minerals; and

(v) recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes related to developing leases; enhancing access to critical mineral resources; and increasing discovery, production, and domestic refining of critical minerals.

The new document, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, is the report called for by the Executive Order. “The strategy outlined in this report complements the National Security and Defense Strategies and lists specific actions Federal agencies should complete in order to ensure the Nation has access to a reliable and robust source of critical minerals to support the Nation’s economic prosperity and national defense,” the Commerce Department says.