U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mineral supply chains, the role of those supply chains in economic and national security, and the challenges America faces in rebuilding them. This is the committee’s ninth hearing on the importance of minerals to supply chains during Murkowski’s time as Chairman and Ranking Member.
“The pandemic has brought home that we don’t produce many goods important to our country,” Murkowski said. “Over the past several months, that has become clear for a range of crucial medical items—including personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses, as well as individual Americans. But it also extends to a much wider range of health care, electronic, industrial, defense, and energy technologies.”
Dr. Nedal Nassar of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Joe Bryan of the Atlantic Council, Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, Dr. Thomas Duesterberg of the Hudson Institute, and Mark Caffarey of Umicore testified during the hearing.
“China’s growing control over many basic materials, and its history of using that control as leverage for its own economic and political goals, makes this a cause of concern,” Dr. Duesterberg testified.
Demand for lithium, graphite, and cobalt will increase 500 percent by 2050 to meet global clean energy needs, according to the World Bank.
“Countries such as the United States have become increasingly import-reliant for their mineral commodity needs, thereby increasing their exposure to foreign supply disruptions,” testified Dr. Nassar. According to the agency, the U.S. imported more than 50 percent of at least 46 different minerals, including 100 percent of 17 of them, in 2019.
In response to Murkowski’s question about the potential impacts of China halting the supply of critical minerals to the U.S., Duesterberg projected the consequences would be “disastrous for the U.S. economy”—especially for personal computer manufacturing, the auto industry, and commercial aviation. Bryan said the U.S. Navy’s reliance on lithium-ion batteries would be affected, as well.
Bryan said the U.S. is losing ground not only to China, but also to nations in Europe, who are defense allies but economic competitors. “This is a problem. Our supply chain weakness has obvious economic implications. But it also creates risk for our military and, more broadly, U.S. national security,” Bryan testified.
Murkowski, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is the sponsor of S. 1317, the bipartisan American Mineral Security Act. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.