Guest opinion: Washington must act now to save America’s high-tech future
Microchips, microchips, microchips. … These days, almost everything we use in our daily lives is controlled by tiny integrated circuits. They’re the miniature brains in our cellphones, satellites, military defenses and wireless networks.
The recipe for these microchips — and for the advanced technologies they make possible — may seem complicated. But they always depend on the same raw ingredients: critical metals and minerals.
In recent years, the United States has embarked on a high-tech future dependent on microchips plus lithium-ion batteries, solar panels and electric vehicles. That’s now forcing us to confront a serious problem — China’s stranglehold over the metals and minerals needed to make them possible.
The federal government just published an assessment on the global metals and minerals picture. And the outlook is bleak. China is in the driver’s seat — and is tightening its grip on these critical supply chains.
China’s dominance over global minerals now extends far beyond anything the United States ever experienced in the oil market. Americans may remember when OPEC once threatened to cut off oil supplies. But Beijing can now exert an even greater control over crucial minerals.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, China is the leading producer for 29 of 43 key industrial minerals. That includes 14 “rare earth” metals absolutely essential to microchips, renewable energy technologies and advanced weapons systems.
China’s unmatched minerals strength is also mirrored by our weakness. The U.S. is reliant on imports for 49 key minerals — and is 100% reliant on imports for 15 of them.
In particular, the United States is beholden to China for 24 key minerals. And if that’s not worrying enough, the United States now relies on Russia for other essential resources.
All of this is happening just as the power rivalry between the U.S. and China could spill over into conflict. The world is a tinderbox. And escalating tensions with Iran, fighting in the Middle East and an ongoing war in Ukraine all threaten wider trouble.
Having America’s economic and national security dependent on supply chains controlled by Beijing and Moscow is a disturbing policy failure.
The United States is finally starting to diversify its mineral supply chains. But we’ve yet to move with the urgency required to address this alarming vulnerability.
For example, the Biden administration has yet to embrace the potential of America’s vast mineral reserves. In fact, the administration is continuing to delay and block many promising mining projects, or remove mineral-rich lands from exploration. That’s unfortunate because the United States possesses rich mineral reserves, including the very resources we need. But we have to recognize and address policy barriers — including a broken mine-permitting process — that stand in the way.
Now, with the world caught in the crosscurrents of political tension and conflict, it seems foolish to keep relying on China. Congress, in partnership with the Biden administration, should launch a moonshot effort to reshore American mining through smart incentives and regulatory reform.
To grow 21st century industries and create good-paying jobs, domestic U.S. companies will need reliable, safely produced metals and minerals from America’s mines. There’s little time to waste in ramping up responsible mining here in the U.S.
Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo.