August draws to an end. And next weekend is Labor Day weekend – the “official” end of summer here vis-à-vis vacations, early Fridays, etc., etc. We saw it cool down a little last week, but, going forward, we are promised some more days with the temperature up in the 90s and equally unpleasant humidity. Well, that’s one of the prices one pays for living in this great city.
It being summer, things have been relatively quiet here (on some fronts). However, following finalization of the critical minerals list earlier this year by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the subsequent press release1 back in mid-May from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I have been eagerly awaiting the “…multi-agency strategy” we have been lead to believe will be unveiled this August. I have, so far, seen nothing, and there are only two days of the month left.
But it’s not as if absolutely everything stopped on the critical minerals front following publication of the list. I was interested to see that, on Tuesday, July 17, there was a meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (chaired by Senator Lisa Murkowski—remember Bokan Mountain, Alaska, rare earths, Ucore…?) to discuss “The Department of the Interior’s Final List of Critical Minerals for 2018 and Opportunities to Strengthen the United States’ Mineral Security.” (The proceedings—archived webcast and documents—can all be found on the committee’s website.)
The list of those appearing as witnesses was certainly an interesting one. Whilst there were a couple of familiar names, others (as their organizations) were totally unknown to me. (What do you have to do to be called as a witness?)
As Senator Murkowski so rightly said in her opening statement: “This hearing and our opportunity with the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] are particularly timely based on what is happening with international trade.” She also articulated a worry I’ve had for a time now and that has rarely, if ever, been mentioned in the media: “My concern, among many concerns, is if China ultimately responds to tariffs by restricting our supply of rare earths, or any number of other minerals, the U.S. could be in serious trouble.” Would we not?!
Rather than providing a synopsis of each witness’ testimony, I would suggest that, if you are interested, you look, in particular, at the statement from Rod Eggert. As can be imagined, testimony from the other witnesses consists mainly of them “talking their own books”—not wholly surprising in the circumstances. But, for me anyway, there appeared to be little new in what any of them had to say.
As always, Dr. Eggert gets straight to the point, with no mucking about. He himself notes that it’s not as if he hasn’t said it all before: “My testimony today on critical minerals, import dependence and government roles represents views I expressed in previous testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources or its subcommittees, September 30, 2010, January 28, 2014, and March 28, 2017; the Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy of the European Parliament, January 26, 2011; and the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, House Committee on Natural Resources, May 24, 2011.” I’m surprised that he is not fed up with saying the same thing over and over again! That said, as a recap, once again, of his thinking, it’s always good to read what he has to say.
As an “add on” to the above, Dr. Eggert’s very quick rundown of ‘the work done by the CMI over the last five years is both useful and illuminating, as is what he sees as being in store for the institute going forward. Perhaps just as interesting for all those in the business of minor metals is the appendix to his statement in which he lists the CMI technologies adopted by industry as of July 2018. I only wish I was a better scientist in order to understand them all better!
As mentioned above, if any members are interested in seeing a webcast of the proceedings and having access to the witnesses’ statements, everything’s available online on the committee’s website.
Finally, to round off this short missive, whilst tooling about on the web the other day I found an interesting “International Trade Alert” from the “international” law firm Hogan Lovells (some of you may remember the venerable London firm of Lovell, White & King, and then just Lovells, and now Hogan Lovells!) published at the start of August and entitled “‘Critical minerals’ may herald Section 232 investigations”2. It is well worth a quick read: it’s very brief and harks back to what Senator Murkowski was talking about.
It says, in short, that since the Trump administration has already imposed tariffs on both steel and aluminium, now that there’s a list of “critical minerals”, further materials (categorized as “critical”) may be targeted under Section 232. To quote from the alert: “Critical minerals and Section 232 investigations already share a ‘national security’ nexus, and the administration’s consideration of import reliance when determining critical minerals demonstrates a close connection between critical minerals and targeted articles under Section 232. In fact, there have recently been calls for a Section 232 addressing rare earths.”3
On that happy note this balmy day (92°F and 52%), I should like to send my best wishes to MMTA members everywhere.
August 29th, 2018
©2018 Tom Butcher
Tom Butcher is an Associate Director at Van Eck Associates Corporation (“VanEck”). The views and opinions expressed herein are the personal views of Tom Butcher are not presented by or associated with VanEck or its affiliated entities.
1 US Geological Survey: Interior Releases 2018’s Final List of 35 Minerals Deemed Critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy, May 18, 2018, https://www.usgs.gov/news/interior-releases-2018-s-final-list-35-minerals-deemed-critical-us-national-security-and
2 Hogan Lovells: “Critical minerals” may herald Section 232 investigations, August 2, 2018, https://www.hoganlovells.com/~/media/hogan-lovells/pdf/2018/2018_02_08_new_critical_minerals_-may_herald_section_232_investigations.pdf?la=en