Mining of 20 ‘critical’ minerals in Nevada could be streamlined

A water lines snake along a lithium brining pond near Silver Peak, Nev., on Friday, Nov. 21, 2015. Since the 1960s lithium has been mined in the area. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)A lithium brining pond near Silver Peak, Nev. is seen on Friday, Nov. 21,2015. More lithium mines in Nevada could be open to supply Tesla‘s new lithium-ion battery factory under construction in Storey County, Nev. Since the 1960s lithium has been mined in the area. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal) The site of a lithium mine near Silver Peak, Nev., on Friday, Nov. 21, 2015. Since the 1960s lithium has been mined in the area. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)A lithium brining pond near Silver Peak, Nev. is seen on Friday, Nov. 21, 2015. Since the 1960s lithium has been mined in the area. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department has published a list of 35 “critical” minerals — 20 of which are present in Nevada — as part of a Trump administration effort to reduce foreign dependence on resources needed for consumer and military goods.

The list of the 35 critical minerals identified by the U.S. Geological Survey was released by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday and will serve as a basis for a final Commerce Department report on the commodities.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in December directing the U.S. Geological Survey to identify minerals critical to national defense and the economy.

Zinke said at the time that the effort would first identify the “critical minerals” needed for military equipment and consumer goods like cellphones and computers, then focus on gathering more geological data, largely through aerial mapping, and streamline the application process to expedite domestic mining and production.

The U.S. is currently reliant on foreign countries “for many of the minerals that are deemed critical for our national and economic security,” he said.

Environmental groups, however, have expressed concerns that the administration is using mineral security as a way to ease regulatory requirements on mining operations, endangering public health, wildlife and water.

“We have grave concerns about what appears to be a gutting of our environmental review laws,” Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Monday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, backed the campaign to identify the minerals and secure “a reliable, long-term domestic supply.”

Three of the minerals on the list — barite, lithium and magnesium — are currently mined in Nevada, while seven others were formerly mined in the state and 10 others are known to be present but have never been commercially extracted.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who attended the Zinke announcement in December, said mining is an $11 billion industry in Nevada, creating 30,000 jobs with an average salary of $90,000. It also prompted electric-carmaker Tesla to build its Gigafactory in Northern Nevada, not just because of a $1.2 billion tax incentive package but because nearby lithium mines produce raw materials for the company’s lithium-ion batteries, he said.

Heller is urging the Trump administration to streamline the application process to open mines to be more competitive with countries like Canada and Australia.

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., say Congress should have a say on changes made to mineral policies to ensure they are environmentally sound.

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‘Critical’ minerals in Nevada

Of the 35 minerals on the list, 20 are present in Nevada, according to Mike Visher, deputy administrator of the Nevada Division on Minerals.

Three are currently being mined in the state, seven others were once mined here and 10 others are present in the state but have never been commercially extracted, he said.

Currently mined

— Barite, used in cement and petroleum industries.

— Lithium, used primarily for batteries.

— Magnesium, used in furnace linings for manufacturing steel and ceramics.

Once mined in state

— Antimony, used in batteries and flame retardants.

— Arsenic, used in lumber preservatives, pesticides and semiconductors.

— Beryllium, used as an alloying agent in aerospace and defense industries.

— Fluorspar, used in the manufacture of aluminum, gasoline, and uranium fuel.

— Manganese, used in steelmaking.

— Tungsten, primarily used to make wear-resistant metals.

— Uranium, mostly used for nuclear fuel.

Present but never mined

— Bismuth, used in medical and atomic research.

— Cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries and superalloys.

— Gallium, used for integrated circuits and optical devices like LEDs.

— Graphite (natural), used for lubricants, batteries, and fuel cells.

— Platinum group metals, used for catalytic agents.

— Potash, primarily used as a fertilizer.

— Rhenium, used for lead-free gasoline and superalloys.

— Tellurium, used in steelmaking and solar cells.

— Titanium, overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or metal alloys.

— Vanadium, primarily used for titanium alloys.

Sources: Nevada Division of Minerals; U.S. Geological Survey