Published March 1976 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Crisis in Raw Materials Experts are warning that, unless positive steps are taken soon, the United States could face severe shortages in raw materials - shortages that could jeopardize our position as an economic world leader. Almost all Americans know of our nation's dependence on imported oil -the 1973 embargo was a grim reminder of that unhappy fact. But less well-known is the extent to which we depend on imports to meet our needs for other raw materials. More than 50 percent of the aluminum ore, tin, iron ore, asbestos, and chromium used in the United States comes from abroad. Overall, there are 23 raw materials imported in large quantities, and without which our nation would be seriously weakened. To a large extent, the raw materials America needs are found in Third World countries. And, encouraged by the relative success of. the 1973 oil e m b a r g o , those Third World countries have been trying to organize for the purpose of driving the price of the materials sky high. Nationalization has been one tool employed. In 1974 and 1975, a dozen underdeveloped countries took action to bring copper, tin, and bauxite more firmly under governmental control. Venezuela alone nationalized mine~ that produce 15 million tons of iron ore annually. Predictably, the cost of raw materials to the importing nations has risen sharply - up 159 percent between 1971 and 1974. And expected future rises make it even more crucial for the United States to act quickly. At least four things should be done: strike a better balance between our environmental desires and economic needs; stockpile the scarce raw materials while we have a chance to do so; practice strict conservation of scarce raw materials; and develop alternate materials. The U.S. Government controls about one-third of the nation's land, much of it rich in raw materials. Yet, mining is prohibited on 67 percent of the land compared with a mining ban on 17 percent in 1968. Unless we get more from our own land, we are going to become even more dangerously dependent on foreign sources. Stockpiling now, while we can still get the needed materials, could avert future price increases from going out of control. It could also enable the U.S. to implement a conservation program, and give us the time needed to develop substitute materials through research. American ingenuity has always been one of our most prized character traits. We had better revive it if we are to survive the raw materials crunch predicted for the years ahead.