Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), Dean Heller (R-NV), and 13 other senators introduced legislation on October 29 addressing the critical minerals supply chain. S. 1600 Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013 includes provisions about critical mineral assessment, recycling, research, production, manufacturing, forecasting, workforce, education, and international capabilities. Critical minerals, used in the defense, energy, electronics, and medical industries, are mined in the U.S., but not all critical minerals are domestically available and therefore must come from international sources.
The bill bolsters the domestic production of critical minerals, expands manufacturing capabilities, and promotes recycling and alternatives. Aimed at maintaining a competitive U.S. minerals supply, it establishes minerals policies and promotes increased coordination across relevant federal agencies. The bill specifies policies for minerals such as cobalt, lead, lithium, thorium and non-traditional sources for rare earth elements. Environmentally responsible production of critical minerals and alternative supplies of those minerals as well as recycling are discussed.
The resource assessment section directs the Secretary of the Interior to complete a comprehensive national assessment describing which minerals have been designated as critical. The list of 20 minerals would be flexible so that as the supply of minerals changes, the list could be readjusted. The assessment would identify and quantify minerals resources, establish the cost of production of those resources and include both quantitative and qualitative assessments of domestic critical minerals resources. The bill calls for an update to the report from the National Academy of Sciences, “Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands” published in 1999. The procedure for attaining permits to mine on Federal lands and performance metrics for processing applications are also addressed.
The sections addressing recycling, efficiency, supply; alternatives; analysis and forecasting; and education and workforce are aligned with the 2011 report Energy Critical Elements: Securing Materials for Emerging Technologies, co-authored by the American Physical Society and Materials Research Society, Member and Affiliated Societies of the American Institute of Physics. Regarding the issue of mining, Robert Jaffe, Morningstar Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-chair of the APS-MRS study group that produced the report stated “no country can mine its way to [energy critical elements] independence. Instead, we need to develop an integrated approach to securing supplies of these key materials.”
The bill requires the Secretary of Energy to conduct a research and development program to facilitate efficient use, production and recycling of critical minerals. Also established in the bill is a research and development, demonstration and commercial applications development program to promote alternatives to critical minerals.
The provisions about international cooperation establish a coordinated effort between the Departments of State and Energy to improve efficient and environmental extraction of critical minerals, increase recycling, and assist in the development and transfer of critical mineral extraction, processing and manufacturing.
“Minerals affect our daily lives, our standard of living, and our ability to prosper, yet the United States lacks clear policies to ensure an affordable and abundant domestic supply. This is one of our greatest needs, and it’s going unmet. Our bipartisan bill will help solve that problem by providing clear direction to keep the United States competitive and begin the process of modernizing our federal mineral policies. While it took time to develop a bill we could all agree on, we have done just that – and the result will be more opportunities for domestic jobs, technological innovation, increased national security, and greater competitiveness,” stated Murkowski.
“So many parts of our 21st Century economy depend on critical minerals that it just makes sense to bring federal policies up to date. This bill creates a more secure domestic supply chain for critical minerals, and makes sure that our country’s national defense, high-tech jobs, energy security and advanced medical care are not held hostage by foreign suppliers,” stated Wyden.