After every election, there's a mad scramble in Washington over the must-make-it-happen agenda for the newly inaugurated president and Congress. There are welcome signs from the White House's own Material Genome Initiative that securing America's access to critical metals and minerals will be high on the list.

A good thing, too. Jobs and capital increasingly flow to countries that command the resources to power modern manufacturing, and American manufacturing is more dependent on metals and minerals access than ever before. Yet there is no country on the planet where it takes longer to get a permit for domestic mining. Among other consequences of this red tape, there are now 19 strategic metals and minerals for which the U.S. is currently 100% import-dependent — and for 11 of these a single country, China, is among the top three providers.

Even so, the president's interest in the subject is a double-edged sword: Will U.S. policies be guided by sound science? Or will they be unduly influenced by environmental politics-despite the fact that many minerals we need are essential components for the production of green energy?

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy underlined the importance of this access in a Jan. 14 statement. "A century ago, plentiful elements like iron, lead, and copper fueled our nation's transition to an industrial economy. But today, many of the materials that characterize the industrial cutting-edge-such as rare earths, indium, and lithium-are not as naturally abundant or easy to access as their predecessors."

The implication that we've entered a brave new world where arcane "technology metals" replace their industrial precursors is a bit misleading, though. The situation is actually more acute. The country's metals dependency is even more pronounced than the White House indicates-and some of those metals and minerals, important in many processes, are not just "cutting-edge" ones like rare earths and indium.

General Electric, for instance, is now using 72 of the first 82 elements on the periodic table in its product-manufacturing mix. Not just iron, lead and copper, either. GE also needs zinc, aluminum, tin and nickel-elements that the American Resources Policy Network argues are best understood as "gateway metals," resources whose byproducts include scores of critical metals recovered during mining.