GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 149-4
Presentation Time: 8:55 AM


SPEARS, David, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Division of Geology and Mineral Resour, 900 Natural Resources Dr Ste 500, Charlottesville, VA 22903-3171

Public policy can be defined as “the sum total of government actions from signals of intent to the final outcomes (Cairney, 2012).” On the issue of minerals, the U.S. federal government has a long history of policy actions taken in response to then-current events. During the American Civil War, the U.S. Army fought over supplies of iron, lead, niter, and salt. In the late 19th century, in response to chaos over mining in the west, Congress passed the General Mining Law of 1872, which still controls mining on federal land. In the first half of the 20th century, federal minerals policy was generally focused on maintaining our military capabilities; the second half of the 20th century was occupied with accumulating the National Defense Stockpile and then liquidating it at the end of the Cold War. In the first decades of the 21st century, reports by respectable scientific organizations (for example, the National Research Council and the American Physical Society) foresaw potential shortages of minerals needed to fill growing demand driven by the green energy transition and technological innovation in consumer goods and military hardware. The federal policy response came in the form of presidential executive orders, actions by executive branch agencies, and attempts by Congress to pass minerals-related legislation. Highlights of this period included establishment of a methodology for determining the criticality of minerals (National Science and Technology Council, 2016) and the publication of the “list of 35” minerals determined to be critical (Fortier et al., 2018) using that methodology. Title VII of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 contained a long list of actions aimed at reducing U.S. reliance on foreign sources of critical minerals, including funding for research into the separation of rare earth elements from coal and coal by-products, continuing maintenance of a list of critical minerals, national assessments of known and undiscovered critical mineral resources, research into recycling and potential alternative materials, an assessment of future workforce needs, and steps toward developing that workforce. This presentation will examine the factors contributing to the rise of critical minerals as a national policy priority and consider the resulting impact on the geosciences in the United States.
  • DSpears_FederalPolicyGeosciCritMins3X.pptx (3.5 MB)