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Critical Minerals Essential to Geopolitics, America's Energy Future


WASHINGTON, D.C., May 18, 2021 -

Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) led a forum on the role critical minerals play in American energy, manufacturing, renewable resource development, health care, geopolitics and more.

"We’re here today to discuss a global problem – the striking shortage of critical minerals needed for our future," Westerman said during the forum. "This has been a growing concern for years, but it appears that we are now approaching a tipping point. Recent reports and modeling have shown that global demand for renewable energy, electric vehicles, battery storage, and other technologies will vastly outstrip the known supply of resources necessary to build them. The difference between what we have and what we will need is several orders of magnitude. Even President Biden has acknowledged this issue, issuing an executive order on America’s supply chains in February. The administration has set several ambitious goals for renewable energy deployment in the U.S., which of course requires major increases in minerals to make these technologies function...It’s important to consider all the tools at our disposal – from increasing recycling technologies, to permitting improvements for domestic mines, to building new smelters – to support this incredibly important economic sector. The longer we do nothing, the worse the problem will become." 

Background

A subset of non-fuel resources often called "hardrock" minerals, critical minerals are integral to our modern way of life. They are used in almost all high-tech devices, including smart phones, satellites, and missile defense systems. They are also essential for the function of renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, and battery storage. Rapid growth in renewable energy technologies is expected to drive mineral demand up by several orders of magnitude, exacerbated by the national goals the Biden administration recently pledged. If a massive scale-up in renewables is going to keep pace with stated demands, it is imperative that the U.S. accepts the reality of the massive amounts of mineral development necessary to meet those goals.

Demand for critical minerals will be met somehow – either from countries with responsible mining and refining practices, or from suppliers that permit unacceptable labor conditions and have minimal concern for environmental impact. It is in the best interest of the United States to maximize production and development domestically or in conjunction with our allies, so that we can ensure minerals will be sourced in a safe, sustainable manner for decades to come. 

The panel of members heard from the following witnesses during the forum:

Dan McGroarty, principal, Carmot Strategic Group, Inc.
Laurel Sayer, president and CEO, Perpetua Resources
Reed Blakemore, deputy director, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council
Dr. Michael Moats, professor of metallurgical engineering and director of the O'Keefe Institute, Missouri University of Science and Technology
Abigail Wulf, director, Center for Critical Minerals Strategy, Securing America’s Future Energy
Tim Gould, head of division, Energy Supply Outlooks and Investment, International Energy Agency
Dr. Ian Lange, director, Mineral and Energy Economics Program, Colorado School of Mines

"Critical minerals aren’t critical because of where they come from – they’re critical because of where they take us," McGroarty said. "American ingenuity, innovation and investment can do a lot – but the power of the private sector can do far more if public policy sends a strong signal that critical minerals matter – to the technology revolution transforming our world and to America’s place as the leader in that transformation."

"Why should we mine critical minerals in America? Well, simply put, because we do it better here at home," Sayer said. "And mining in America provides us control over our future. Domestic production gives us direct access to the materials we need, brings with it American jobs and American infrastructure, and puts the social and environmental conditions of mining in our hands."

"Mineral supply chains will demand our attention for the foreseeable future, especially as efforts to deploy new technologies and clean energy resources continue at current levels," Blakemore said. "Yet even as policies are developed to ensure that supply chains remain resilient, well-governed, and sustainable, careful attention must be paid to the behavior of the markets within these supply chains, as well as the scale of establishing resiliency across a wide range of unique minerals and metals." 

"Ultimately, if we're going to rebuild our mineral supply chain and our metal supply chain here in the United States, we need a workforce," Moats said. "As an educator, I'm one of the few people who are an attractive metallurgical engineering professor in the United States. There are only 11 ABET accredited mining engineering programs and eight metallurgical engineering programs. In fact, one university in China has more professors in extracting metallurgy than the entire United States. Policymakers should consider targeting these programs and providing resources to show university professors that these programs that produce mining engineers and metallurgical engineers are critical to our future and critical to the sustainability of our industries."

"The 2020s will be a critical decade that will challenge the United States’ ability to consistently and effectively project its political, military, and economic strength," Wulf said. "During this time, the production of batteries, electric vehicles (EVs), semiconductors, and other advanced technologies will take on increased geopolitical importance in the face of a rising China. The nation that prevails in this struggle to control the manufacturing and distribution of these key industries will lead the global transition to a new energy future and the next industrial revolution. The United States cannot afford to lag behind China, risking our position of global economic leadership, leaving us vulnerable to supply disruptions and dependent on nations that do not share our values."

"Today, the global energy system is in the midst of a major transition to clean energy," Gould said. "The efforts of an ever-expanding number of countries and companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero call for the massive deployment of a wide range of clean energy technologies, many of which in turn rely on critical minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements. An evolving energy system calls for an evolving approach to energy security. As clean energy transitions accelerate globally and solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars are deployed on a growing scale, these rapidly growing markets for key minerals could be subject to price volatility, geopolitical influence and even disruptions to supply."

"Re-shoring of critical industries is an important goal to further the national security and economic progress of the U.S.," Lange said. "Unlike many key industries, the upstream mining sector, the part of the mining industry which extracts the minerals from the ground, has the necessary inputs available to them now in the U.S. Mineral deposits of commercial quality as well as the mining technology and labor force to extract these resources exist within the U.S., we just have to allow it to happen. Permitting of mining operations, on federal lands especially, is a process filled with much uncertainty. This uncertainty reduces investor and firm interest in the industry, ultimately limiting the ability of the U.S. to mine the minerals needed along with their associated jobs along the supply chain."


Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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