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Amid protectionist push, US Interior publishes draft list of critical minerals

To give a boost to U.S. metal production, the Department of the Interior published a draft list of critical minerals in the Federal Register Feb. 16 as called for in a recent executive order by President Donald Trump.

The move is part of the Trump administration's broader push to cut down on regulation and speed up permitting timelines for resource projects.

The draft list identifies 35 minerals, metals and groups of metals that are critical to the U.S. economy and military but may be vulnerable to dependence on foreign supplies. Trump directed the Secretary of the Interior to come up with the list of critical minerals in Executive Order 13817, signed Dec. 20, 2017.

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The draft list includes aluminum, platinum group metals, rare earths and a slew of other metals that play a role in a myriad of products. In the Federal Register, the Department of the Interior said the list of minerals "merit" consideration to increase U.S. security and also called for comments on the list before March 19.

The National Mining Association, or NMA, issued a release applauding the focus of driving back U.S. reliance on foreign mineral sources but argued the executive order and list in the federal register did not go far enough.

"All minerals are 'critical' when we need them and can't get them," Hal Quinn, NMA president and CEO, said in the statement. The NMA said simplified permitting in the U.S. was key to supporting metal and mineral production. It did not respond to a request for an interview.

Some junior explorers, companies that depend on venture capital to fund them, have responded positively to the Trump administration's appetite for protectionism of metals and minerals for economic and military purposes.

NioCorp Developments Ltd. said the draft list in the Federal Register elevated the strategic importance of its Elk Creek superalloy project in Nebraska. Similarly, Ucore Rare Metals Inc. previously highlighted Executive Order 13817 as supporting its preproduction-stage Bokan Mountain rare earths project in Alaska.

The inclusion of aluminum on the draft list was also notable. Aluminum, along with steel, has undergone a Section 232 review in which the Department of Commerce assessed whether the sectors need protection given national security considerations in the U.S. Recommendations stemming from the review are now before President Trump.