Even as we are freeing ourselves from reliance on foreign sources for our oil, we now need to take action to end our dependence on China for the production of rare earth metals.
These metals are vital components of a plethora of high-tech equipment such as cell phones, computers, solar panels, wind turbines, building materials and motor vehicles. China is now the source of 95 percent of the rare earth metals mined in the world.
While the United States is abundantly endowed with rare earth deposits, particularly in Nevada and Alaska, regulations from the Obama era make them almost impossible to get at. It takes almost a decade for a mining permit to harvest them.
Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei has been pushing for executive orders from the Trump administration and for Congressional legislation to increase our rare earth mineral production.
In February, 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a proposed regulation enumerating what minerals are to be considered vital to the national security.
He said that the new list of 35 metals includes “aluminum, the platinum group of metals used for catalytic agents, and rare-earth elements that are used in batteries and such high-tech devices as smartphones and missile guidance systems,” according to the Washington Examiner.
Amodei is also pushing for legislation to require prompt action and timely judicial review for rare earth metal mining.
He proposes a requirement that there be prompt action on applications for rare earth mines and that that any judicial review be limited to under a hundred days.
He would also require the venue for judicial challenges to be the home state where the mining would take place.
Our dependence on China for our entire electronics industry invites a national disaster. China has already used its near-monopoly to flex its muscles.
In 2010, it lowered its quota of rare earth exports 40 percent, prompting a worldwide surge in prices. The United States, the European Union and Japan appealed to the World Trade Organization, which ruled against China.
China used its power over rare earth metals in a diplomatic clash with Japan in 2010 when a Chinese fishing trawler and a Japanese Coast Guard Patrol Boat collided.
The trawler boat captain was imprisoned in Japan and China demanded his release. When Japan refused, China stopped rare earth metal sales to Japan. Eventually, the captain was released and the ban (which was never official) ended.
We are putting our head in the noose by continuing to depend on China for rare earth metals, just as we were when we depended on OPEC for oil.
We need to pass the Amodei bill and finalize the Trump administration’s new regulations.
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