In the parallel universe that is modern Progressivism, tomorrow’s children will live in total harmony with nature thanks to solar panels, wind turbines, smart phones, electric vehicles, and other “green” technology — NONE of which pollutes Mother Earth in any way, shape, or form. Life will be wonderful.

Or will it?

Ned Mamula and Ann Bridges, in their new book Ground Breaking: America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence, demonstrate that these so-called “green” technologies are entirely dependent upon mining and processing of rare-earth minerals, copper, and other minerals. In short, these technologies are not so “green” (that is, clean and renewable) after all.

Nevertheless, the authors agree that, because the emerging economies are entirely dependent upon these “green” technologies, “minerals are the new oil.” Yet the U.S. produces no rare-earth minerals and remains entirely or heavily dependent upon imports for dozens of minerals and metals deemed as “critical” in a brand-new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Instead, just as Governor Cuomo has banned fracking in New York State despite the economic benefits that could otherwise accrue to upstate residents, U.S. policy over the past several decades has largely treated minerals exploitation as an evil that we can do without.

How should this nation respond to the threat that hostile nations will restrict or even ban shipments of these minerals to U.S. manufacturers, or will charge U.S. retailers exorbitant fees or make other demands that will cripple the U.S. economy?

In the Preface, CFACT Senior Policv Analyst Paul Driessen warns that the Green fascination with “climate change” contributes greatly to America’s ever-growing reliance on Chinese goods to run its booming economy. The U.S. has vast mineral deposits, including recoverable deposits of many rare-earth minerals, but nearly three-fourths of all U.S. federal lands remain closed to any exploration and development, even proper mapping, of critical minerals.

The U.S. economy, he argues, is thus in jeopardy in the event of any cutoff or slowdown in the delivery of rare-earth minerals, nearly all of which are currently processed (and most of which are mined) in China. Perhaps this is a major reason that companies like Google and Apple are heavily invested in China even to the detriment of America’s interests.

Just as unfortunate, federal bureaucrats and the regulations they have written have turned permitting of mining and processing operations into marathons that require decades, and huge investments with no return, of negotiations, hearings, and concessions that (a) delay production and lower profitability of any mine that does finally open, (b) force many other would-be mining operations into bankruptcy or at least to the point that they withdraw their applications, and (c) stop many others from even trying to get a permit to construct and operate what would otherwise be a profitable, and much-needed, business venture.

Mamula and Bridges agree that the U.S. is at the mercy of often hostile foreign powers who are the major suppliers to our defense, renewable energy, and technology industries. Half a century ago, they note, Stanford economic geologist Charles Park wrote Affluence in Jeopardy to show how dependent we are on minerals for our modern industrial economy. Yet today Park’s warning of the necessity of minerals independence remains unheeded.

Back in 2010, China temporarily cut off shipments of rare-earth minerals to Japan in the wake of a fishing incident. This prompted U.S. policymakers to ponder just how essential rare-earths are to U.S. economic well-being and national security and how vulnerable is the U.S.to rare-earth supply disruptions. The answers, while sobering, did not prompt changes to U.S. mining policy.

Mamula and Bridges reveal an ever-growing aversion to addressing these issues in an era where the very concept of “national security” is pooh-poohed by globalists and leftists alike. America’s universities, which once led the world in innovation, have become so politicized that they often no longer even offer course studies and advanced degrees in materials science, metallurgy, mineral industry, and mining engineering. Our heads are truly in the sand.

Around 1980, the U.S., acting in concert with the International Atomic Energy Agency, effectively banned the processing of uranium, thorium, and even phosphate mine tailings (which contain significant quantities of rare-earth minerals) four decades ago – with little fanfare. China was not a IAEA member at the time, and when it did join four years later, its processing activities were grandfathered in, leaving China with an effective worldwide monopoly on rare-earth mining and processing granted by environmentalist regulators.

The authors also outline the sad history of Alaska’s would-be Pebble Mine, calling the story “the classic cautionary tale in U.S. history of how a powerful federal regulatory agency can go rogue and impose its will on an unsuspecting permit applicant.

Records show that EPA officials colluded with environmentalist mining opponents, even writing an “options paper” that revealed the agency opposed permits for the mine on ideological grounds – violating National Environmental Policy Act requirements that any opposition be based on the science. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson even attended a fundraiser opposing the project at the Supreme Court and refused to even meet with Alaska Natives who supported the project.

The book goes on to guide readers through the myriad pitfalls of the existing regulatory jungle that is clearly designed to discourage applicants. The decades-long permitting nightmares have caused many to withdraw applications altogether or not even bother to try. Such policies cost mining states jobs and tax revenues and cost the American people even more dearly. Things are so bad that major U.S. minerals deposits on federal lands are not even properly mapped.

Mamula and Bridges close the book with a dramatic call to “take back our mineral future.” Much like salmon swimming upstream who have to be helped around dams, this job will be challenging and require assistance from the public. Chief goals in the short run include (1) shortening permitting times (Canada and Australia permit mines in 24 to 30 months; we should be able to meet that standard as well); reexamining federal land withdrawals (maybe even using national security as a justification); defining critical minerals (and letting the public know their own dependence on them); boosting geologic mapping; and more.

The chief obstacle to a return to wise mining and minerals policy, and ultimately to new and revitalized, profitable, job-creating mining and processing operations, is public awareness of the breadth and depth of the problem if we fail to act. Overcoming decades of anti-mining indoctrination, miseducation, and near-abandonment of reality depends on convincing users of green technology that they cannot rely on China to prop up the U.S. economy forever.

It requires a massive education campaign to show Americans that the tools of 21st Century technology cannot work without the rare-earth minerals that only China now supplies. Such a campaign will have to overcome the deeply ingrained belief (the result of decades of academic indoctrination) that mining is evil if done by Americans in America.

To date, the public conversation about the value, the necessity, of secure access to the minerals that make “green” technologies go hardly exists outside certain insider circles. Even the average young American technology employee likely does not even know there is a problem or discounts any qualms about future supply as the rantings of “deplorables.”

Changing viewpoints, a necessary step in changing policies and priorities, remains a huge challenge. Ground Breaking is a vital tool for those who accept this challenge.

Author

  • Duggan Flanakin

    Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, "Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout."