The U.S. is Backsliding on Reducing Mineral Import Reliance

Author: Rich Nolan
A chart showing surging mineral demand but declining U.S. supply chain production.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has taken a series of steps that undermine the United States’ ability to reduce its reliance on imported minerals just as the demand for these resources is skyrocketing. These actions contradict the administration’s stated goals of securing supply chains and promoting the energy transition, exposing the country to greater risks of foreign dependency. This is yet another series of missteps that are creating new barriers to reshoring our mineral supply chains and ensuring we have the secure, reliable mineral supplies we need produced under world-leading labor and environmental standards.

Surging Mineral Demand and Policy Missteps

The focus on green energy, electric vehicles, new grid transmission infrastructure and batteries has led to a dramatic increase in the demand for minerals such as lithium, cobalt, copper and rare earth elements. President Biden’s ambitious targets, including making 70% of new U.S. car sales electric by 2032, are supercharging this demand. However, the U.S. is currently 100% import-reliant for 15 critical minerals and over 50% import-reliant for 49 others, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) 2024 Mineral Commodities Summary Report.

The administration recognizes this alarming overreliance on imports, but it’s creating new obstacles to ramping up domestic mining, exacerbating the very problem it says it seeks to solve.

Restricting Land and Blocking Projects

In April, a trifecta of decisions by various federal agencies highlighted this contradictory approach and staggering lack of reason. The Department of the Interior (DOI) reversed its previous approval of Alaska’s Ambler Access Project, a critical initiative that would have provided roadway access to significant mineral deposits essential for U.S. supply chains. This decision came despite broad support from local and state stakeholders including Alaska’s elected officials. The project was poised to open access to essential resources such as cobalt, copper and rare earth elements — materials integral to reducing our overreliance on imports.

More broadly, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) introduced the “Conservation and Landscape Health” rule, imposing new restrictions on federal land use activities. While conservation is crucial, this rule opens the door to legal challenges, delays and increased costs for mineral projects. It undermines the General Mining Law, which is pivotal for national economic and security interests and conflicts with other federal initiatives aimed at enhancing mineral security.

Additionally, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a rule complicating the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This rule increases the financial burden on project sponsors and exacerbates litigation delays, making it harder to develop essential mineral projects. Such regulatory hurdles deter investment in domestic mining, making it that much harder to invest in and build the supply chains we need.

Congressional Response and Future Steps

Fortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives has shown leadership in countering these detrimental policies. Recent legislative efforts aim to support domestic mining and secure supply chains:

  • H.R. 2925 – Mining Regulatory Clarity Act of 2024: This bill seeks to restore the federal framework under the Mining Law, reversing a 2022 court decision that has hindered mining activities. It passed with bipartisan support.
  • H.R. 3195 – Superior National Forest Restoration Act: This bill rescinds the DOI’s mineral withdrawal in Northern Minnesota and mandates timely environmental reviews for mining projects, ensuring continued mineral development.
  • H.R. 3397 – Western Economic Security Today Act of 2024: This bill nullifies the BLM’s recent rule that restricts land use for mining, promoting transparency and reducing unnecessary delays.

These legislative actions are crucial for addressing the nation’s mineral import reliance and should be supported by the Senate.

The Need for a Mining Policy Reset

The Biden administration must reconcile its energy transition goals and its efforts to secure American supply chains with its ongoing efforts to make it harder to mine domestically. While the administration has made strides in reshoring mineral processing and fostering international supply chain cooperation, it must reduce barriers to domestic mining, not raise new ones. The current trajectory of regulatory overreach threatens to entrench U.S. reliance on foreign minerals, particularly from geopolitical rivals like China and Russia.

China dominates global mineral supply chains and is the leading supplier of 24 of the 49 minerals the U.S. has deemed critical. This dependency poses significant risks to the U.S. economy, security and the nation’s energy future. Competing with China and addressing this alarming overreliance – which China has already used to exert geopolitical leverage – requires an all-of-government approach to encouraging domestic mining, not creating new roadblocks and putting our vast mineral resources further out of reach.

American competitiveness, national security and our advanced energy ambitions rest on our ability to build the secure, responsible mineral supply chains we know must have. The Senate should join the House in passing legislation that promotes domestic mineral development and puts us on the right track. It is also equally imperative that the administration aligns its policies with its stated objectives and recognizes that supporting domestic mining is the key to addressing our alarming overreliance on mineral imports and building the supply chains that are the very foundation of our 21st century industrial base.