Over the objections of Republican lawmakers, the Department of the Interior has published a finalized critical mineral list that omits helium, uranium, potash, and other minerals that were on the original 2018 list, which was published in response to then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order.
The department had solicited comments on its draft list, released in November 2021.
“The Administration will direct agencies to prioritize the production and processing of minerals necessary to produce key products like batteries, semiconductors, and permanent magnets, consistent with our strong environmental, social, and labor principles,” the White House stated in a press release on the updated list.
President Joe Biden’s Interior Department adhered to the definition of “critical mineral” in the 2020 Energy Act, which doesn’t include what that act describes as “fuel minerals.” The published methodology for the new list notes that uranium was “explicitly excluded from analysis.”
“The Energy Act excludes ‘fuel minerals’ from the definition of critical minerals, and uranium is used as a fuel: while uranium has important nonfuel uses, it is a major fuel commodity in the United States,” reads the finalized list, which was expanded from 35 to 50 minerals.
Explaining the motivation for a critical mineral list, Trump’s Executive Order 13817 states that “it shall be the policy of the Federal Government to reduce the Nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals, which constitutes a strategic vulnerability for the security and prosperity of the United States.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking GOP member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, voiced concerns over the finalized list, in light of U.S. reliance—or potential reliance—on Russia and its allies for uranium and helium.
As of 2020, the United States has imported virtually all of its uranium, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). In 2020, Russia and Kazakhstan, an ally of Russia, supplied 38 percent of U.S. uranium.
In 2021, Russia’s Gazprom opened a major new helium plant in southeastern Russia.
“The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Biden has released a critical minerals list that makes the United States more vulnerable to Russia and our adversaries. For decades, Russia and its allies have worked to gain a commanding share of the world’s uranium market. American businesses are now dependent on Russia and its allies for half of the uranium they use. Russia is working to gain a similar share of the world’s helium market,” Barrasso said in a statement.
“We have abundant supplies of uranium and helium. The president should make producing them in America a top priority.”
Wyoming led the nation in proven uranium ore reserves as of 2008, according to the EIA. New Mexico also has large proven reserves.
“At a time when inflation and geopolitical upheaval are putting global energy supplies in jeopardy, the fact that the Biden administration has excluded minerals like uranium from its critical minerals list is naive and shortsighted. Instead, this is another snub for Wyoming by the Biden administration,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said in an emailed comment to The Epoch Times.
Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
In early February, Barrasso and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) co-authored a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland objecting to the exclusion of uranium and helium from the draft list.
The senators questioned the methodology of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for assessing the criticality of minerals, describing it as “mostly quantitative” with respect to helium, despite the 2020 Energy Act’s authorization of a more qualitative assessment alongside quantitative judgments.
“We believe even the most basic qualitative assessment of the foreign political risk, military conflict, violent unrest, and anticompetitive and protectionist behavior associated with helium would show that helium should remain on the list of critical minerals,” the letter reads.
Barrasso and Lee highlighted the dangers of growing Russian dominance, as well as reliance on another major helium-producing nation, Qatar.
Qatar was recently subject to a multiyear embargo from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
“Even absent any embargo, Qatar’s helium passes through the Straits of Hormuz, which has among the highest geopolitical tension in the world,” the letter reads.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has cited Utah and Wyoming among the states with helium-rich natural gas.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Lee and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), but didn’t hear back by press time. Wyden, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and other senators on both sides of the aisle co-sponsored a 2013 bill that would have established a methodology for identifying critical minerals. The Epoch Times has also reached out to the Interior Department regarding the stated concerns of Lee and Barrasso, but didn’t hear back by press time.
The list’s exclusion of potash, a group of potassium-containing salts used almost entirely in fertilizer, comes at a time of rising global trade tensions over fertilizer nutrients, as well as dramatically rising fertilizer prices.
In late 2021, China restricted the export of potassium and urea, both used in fertilizers. Russia has followed suit, banning the export of ammonium nitrate in early February. The price of natural gas, also employed in fertilizer production, has likewise trended upward.
The USGS’s methodology noted that potash was among several minerals that barely fell short of its quantitative cutoff for supply risk.
“This highlights the fact that the metrics developed with this methodology are best viewed as a continuum of supply risk, rather than an as indication that supply risk does not exist for commodities below the quantitative cutoff,” the methodology states.