Bloomberg Government: GOP Touts Minerals Bill as Antidote to Weak U.S. Supply Chain

May 29, 2020
In The News

House Republicans on Thursday unveiled legislation aimed at reducing America’s reliance on imported critical minerals integral to the nation’s supply chains for renewable energy, defense, and technology.

The measure seeks to increase domestic production of critical minerals by expediting federal permitting, and requiring agencies to include mineral resource assessments in publicland management.

The American Critical Minerals Exploration and Innovation Act would limit to 30 months the federal review and permitting process for a project “reasonably expected to produce critical minerals.”

It also would direct the Interior Department to periodically update a list of critical minerals, and the Energy Department to establish a research program to spur innovation in critical mineral development strategy and technology, including minerals recycling. In addition, the legislation would invest in education at U.S. mining schools.

But the bill is unlikely to gain much traction with House Democratic leaders who aren’t fond of mineral extraction on public land. The American Critical Minerals Exploration and Innovation Act is similar but not identical to a bipartisan Senate bill (S. 1317) sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that is still circulating in the upper chamber.

Murkowski tried to get her bill, which was reported out of committee last summer, included as part of a broader energy reform package. That package failed in the Senate in March but could resurface before year’s end.

‘Dangerous Dependence’

Minerals like graphite, gallium, tellurium, and cobalt are essential in electric car batteries and other technologies used in the renewable energy sector.

China dominates the critical minerals market, and the major disruption of the supply chain because of the coronavirus pandemic underscores the need for America to wean itself off such imports, Republicans said.

“What this health crisis has also exposed is our dangerous dependence on China when it comes to our supply chain,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

“The status quo that we are dealing with is relying really horrible environmental and labor standards in China and other places,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) during a news conference with reporters and other members. “I think this is one of those things that has to be acknowledged by everybody.”

The country’s need for critical minerals will only “skyrocket in the coming decades, especially as demand for renewable energy and battery storage increases,” said Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who leads the Congressional Western Caucus and sponsored the bill alongside Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.).

‘Walk and Chew Gum’

Waltz during the briefing that bipartisan support exists for the education and national security components of the legislation.

“It might be that elements of this move forward rather than the entire bill,” he said.

He also said that the legislation’s focus on technology and innovation could help develop “new ways we can extract these resources that alleviates some of the traditional environmental concerns.”

“I think there are ways where we can walk and chew gum,” said the Republican, who represents northern Florida. “The environment is critical to our way of life and our economy” in the Sunshine State, he said.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) agreed that parts of the Republicans’ critical minerals legislation could find a home elsewhere.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that if you put together really good productive language sometimes in a body where you are the political minority, you’ll discover your language appears in a legislative majority appropriations bill, or a legislative majority comprehensive bill,” he said. “I consider that to be the ultimate form of flattery.”

Bishop and Lucas will advocate for critical minerals legislation in their respective roles as ranking member of the committees on Natural Resources and Science, Space and Technology.