A transposition of quotes in a story of stockpiles that appeared in The Washington Post Oct. 9 made it appear that the American Mining Congress favors adding to this nation's stockpile of tin. The American Mining Congress' position is that the most recent revision of stockpile objectives - setting the goal for tin at 30,000 tons - is too low. The American Mining Congress has not advocated adding to the present stockpile of 200,000 tons of tin. It supports a bill that would in all probability reduce the tin stockpile to 150,000 tons.
Last week, top executives from several major copper companies met with officials in the White House and the Interior Department to voice a major concern: prices are down, the market is slack, and the industry is in trouble.
They proposed that the administration sell 30,000 tons of tin from the national security stockpile, and use the proceeds to buy between 225,000 and 250,000 tons of copper, one of the materials now absent from the stockpile.
When the administration announced its new stockpile policy later in the week, there was no explicit mention of either copper or tin. But the decision to adopt the stockpile objectives of the Fund administration opened the door for the government to buy up to 1.3 billion tons of copper during the next 20 years.
Perhaps the copper executives' visit was superfluous. With no copper in the stockpile, it is logical for the administration to adopt the goal of obtaining some. But the incident does illustrate the vigorous and often effective lobbying that takes place around the national security stockpile.
Large quantities of 93 metals, minerals, and other industrial materials, with a total value of about $8.5 billion, constitute the national security stockpile in 117 government warehouses around the country.
About 20 years from now, when the government has finished disposing of the materials it no longer thinks it needs and has acquired all that it wants to add to the stockpile, the value of the materials in the warehouses likely will have risen by about $3 billion to $11.5 billion in today's prices, according to current estimates. The figure in then-year dollars, of course, will be far higher.
Most of those billions will flow among the government, the miners and large users of metals and minerals.
Although, to its frustration, the industry usually finds it difficult to influence greatly the administration's decisions about the ultimate composition of the stockpile, it has too great a financial interest in the matter not to engage in occasionally heavy lobbying in Congress over the timing and pace of stockpile transactions.
Take silver, for instance. "We don't have the expertise" in national security matters to argue about how much silver is needed in the stockpile, said Walter Frankland, executive vice president of the Silver Users Association, whose members use about 80 per cent of the silver mined in this country, Canada, and Mexico.
But once the administration decided to sell silver from the stockpile, "We help as much as we can to encourage Congress to dispose of silver" in the market, "because that's where it came from in the first place."
Any administration decision to sell silver from the stockpile "triggers some lobbying on the Hill," Frankland said.
Or take tin, another stockpiled metal. "I think it's a fair statement" that the steel industry's attitude about the stockpile is determined by economics, said a spokesman for the American Iron and Steel Institute, adding, "We don't want the stockpile depleted to the point where we hurt the national defense requirement."
Nevertheless, the price of tin almost has doubled recently because of a worldwide shortage, he said. "We might encourage an authorization for the release of 20,000 to 30,000 tons of tin," he said.
"The U.S. has the largest reserve supply in the world . . . . Our view is that the government should sell tin to alleviate the inflationary impact of the shortage.
The "industry" is often not of one mind on the stockpile. Tin consumers "want to see us sell some tin because they'd like to buy it," said Paul Kruger of the Federal Preparedness Agency, which translates stockpile objectives into yearly purchase and disposal plans.
"On the other hand, the American Mining Congress would like to see more tin stockpiled" because that would mean more government purchases from the Congress' membership of mining companies.
A major industry complaint about the stockpile is that it has been used for economic, rather than security, purposes by recent administrations.
The Johnson and Nixon Administrations "made no bones" about selling some metals from the stockpile - notably copper - to produce revenue for the Treasury, Strauss said.
Nixon infuriated the industry by selling copper in 1974, when price controls limited copper producers to a price of 68 cents per pound, for between 85 cents and $1.10 per pound.
As a result of that incident and others, most of the industry is supporting a bill introduced by Sen. James McClure (R-Idaho), that would change the basis of stockpile objective-setting from administration decisions to a formula based on U.S. import dependence for strategic metals and minerals.
The Carter administration opposes McClure's bill because it "is a little too unreliable" and "overlooks too many factors which are germaine to national security," said Tom Simmons, executive assistant to the director of FPA.
The stockpile has been frozen since February, when the Carter administration declared a moratorium on stockpile transactions in order to review the role it wants to tailor the stockpile to fit.
Under former President Nixon, the National Security Council concluded the stockpile need by large enough only for a one-year war that did not require an industrial mobilization. That decision led to large-scale sales of stockpiled materials.
The Ford administration came along and decided the stockpile should be large enough for a three-year war that included an industrial mobilization, and came up with a plan to acquire billions of dollars worth of minerals for the stockpile over several years.