Minerals are fundamental to life as we know it: to the homes we live in, the buildings we work in, the cars we drive, and just about every product we use, from our toothpaste to our televisions. Without minerals we wouldn’t have smart phones, MRI machines, missile defense systems, most forms of renewable energy, or a whole lot else.

Yet, it’s almost like clockwork: year after year, the United States’ foreign mineral dependence continues to rise, exposing our nation to the risks of supply interruptions and the tremendous economic consequences that would result from them.

Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this past year was no different. The agency’s latest Mineral Commodity Summaries report found that the United States imported at least 50 percent of our supply of at least 50 minerals in 2016. That’s a notable increase year-over-year, and it’s a dramatic jump compared to 1978, when our nation imported half of our supply of just 25 minerals.

While partial dependence is alarming enough, USGS also found that America was 100 percent dependent on foreign nations for our supply of 20 minerals in 2016. Again, that’s a step backwards year-over-year, and it’s a steep spike from 1978, when we imported our entire supply of just seven minerals.
So which minerals are we buying from abroad? And how important are they? Rare earth elements are a series of 17 technology metals that are vital to everything from night vision goggles to wind turbines—yet the U.S. imported 100 percent of our supply in 2016.

Graphite is a key component of the lithium ion batteries that power laptops and electric vehicles—and again, we imported 100 percent of our supply last year.

Niobium is used in steel alloys for natural gas pipelines and jet engines—but 100 percent of our supply came from abroad in 2016.
The list of the United States’ foreign mineral dependence goes on and on.

Aluminum? 52 percent.

Copper? 34 percent.

Platinum? 73 percent.

Potash? 90 percent.

Rhenium? 81 percent.

Silver? 67 percent.

Zinc? 82 percent.

For years
, Chairman Murkowski has warned that our nation’s mineral security is deteriorating. She has stressed that America is on the verge of trading our foreign oil dependence for an equally, if not more, harmful dependence on foreign minerals. And she has championed legislation that would bring our mineral policies into the 21st century by reforming the notoriously slow federal permitting process, increasing R&D into alternatives, promoting recycling, and other sensible steps.

Chairman Murkowski plans to introduce a new version of her mineral policy reform bill in the weeks ahead. For the sake of our nation’s manufacturing sector, and just about every other job in America, let’s hope 2017 is the year that this growing vulnerability finally receives the public attention—and policy response—it deserves.