A new executive order from President TrumpDonald John TrumpPresident Trump, Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19 Trump, first lady to quarantine after top aide tests positive for coronavirus Secret recordings show Melania Trump was frustrated about criticism of Trump 2018 border separation policy: CNN MORE seeks to use the Defense Production Act — the law Democrats urged the president to use to mass produce equipment during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — as a way to bolster the domestic mining industry.
The order, issued late Wednesday, offers more messaging than substance, railing against China and warning the country could cut off access to critical minerals used in technology ranging from iPhones to medical equipment.
“A strong America cannot be dependent on imports from foreign adversaries for the critical minerals that are increasingly necessary to maintain our economic and military strength in the 21st century,” Trump wrote in the order.
The executive order largely directs departments to continue studying critical minerals and calls for a few new reports — efforts that are already underway in the Trump administration.
But Trump also directs the Department of the Interior to consider using the Defense Production Act, one of the most direct interventions yet for an administration that has rolled back numerous environmental laws that could slow mining.
“As a macro political thing it’s ridiculous that the president still won’t actually use the Defense Production Act for things like PPE that could actually save lives and instead, is invoking it for this very obvious political stunt to show he’s pro mining,” said Brett Hartl, chief political strategist for the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, in reference to personal protective equipment.
The 1950 Act, passed at the start of the Korean War, authorizes the president to force businesses to manufacture materials or products deemed necessary for the safety of the nation.
Democrats called on Trump to use the legislation to mass produce items necessary to combat the coronavirus when the outbreak began in the United States in March.
Trump issued the Wednesday order after holding a campaign rally in Duluth, Minn., near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that has been eyed to expand mining for its nickel and copper reserves — neither of these are critical minerals.
Hartl said using the act to spur mining is both an unreasonable and unnecessary step that would interfere with free markets.
“It is all based on at its core is this anti-China rhetoric. ‘China has all these rare earth metals and the Chinese communists are going to cut us off, and we’ll be stranded.’ It’s just political. China has sold us and continues to sell us critical minerals because it’s in their interest to make money and be a part of the global economy,” Hartl said.
“Republicans love free markets unless they’re not working toward their sort of perceived objectives,” he added.
It’s not clear exactly how the Defense Production Act would be used to support mining, but it follows a similar pattern of other Trump executive orders that rely on emergency authorizations to begin projects.
The Wednesday order comes after numerous efforts from the administration to ease burdens on mining and more specifically, the uranium mining industry.
Environmental groups say the administration’s rolling back of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act have stripped away much of the regulatory review opposed by the industry.
“This executive order is just opening the doors wider to things we were already concerned about,” said Michele Bustamante, a science fellow with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Bustamante is worried the order will be used to expedite permits if a mineral is deemed critical.
“The entire premise of this executive order is flawed. We’re not mining here not because of regulatory burden but because of poor resource relative to other nations,” she said.
“It’s the mineral potential that is lacking.”