A dependable supply of rare earth minerals is essential for national security, industrial production and economic success. However, we import nearly all of our supply of these critical minerals from foreign sources. The development of a domestic supply chain is necessary to ensure these elements remain available to U.S. manufacturers.
Seventeen elements are classified as rare earth elements (REEs). The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reportsthat these elements are key ingredients in the manufacture of many important technologies and products, including: numerous medical devices; television and flat panel displays, cell phones, portable DVDs and laptops; automotive catalytic converters; petroleum refining materials; hybrid and electric vehicle batteries; permanent magnets; jet fighter engines; missile guidance systems; antimissile defense; and satellite and communication systems.
According to CRS, the U.S. was once self-reliant in domestically produced REEs, but over the past 15 years we have become 100 percent reliant on imports, primarily from China, because of lower-cost operations. This has occurred while increasing world demand for REEs has been projected to surpass production. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) projects that U.S. demand will also continue to increase. The U.S. Magnet Materials Association, which is made up of aerospace, medical and electronic materials companies, has urged steps to mitigate an REE "supply crisis" that the organization characterizes as a serious threat to the U.S. economy and national security.
CRS indicates that while REEs are more abundant in the earth's crust than their name implies, they are generally not concentrated enough to make extraction economical. The USGS estimates that the U.S. holds approximately 13 percent of the world's REE reserves. Idaho, with its significant deposits of rare earth elements, has a critical role to play in the domestic supply of rare earth minerals. A USGS reportindicates that the Lemhi Pass District, located in central Idaho, is estimated to hold the largest concentrated U.S. deposit of thorium, an essential rare earth element used in multiple defense and energy applications.
I joined a bipartisan group of 20 Senators, including Idaho Senator Jim Risch, in co-sponsoring the Critical Minerals Policy Act, S. 1113, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). This legislation would help stimulate the production of domestic rare earth resources, ensuring the U.S. is able to meet economic and national security demands. Specifically, the legislation includes provisions to establish a process for designating minerals as critical; direct a comprehensive resource assessment of domestic critical mineral potential, including mineral potential on federal land; establish a working group to review the mineral development permitting process and recommend improvements; authorize critical minerals research and development, including their efficient use, recycling and alternatives; provide workforce assessments, with curriculum development and worker training to support an integrated domestic supply chain; and promote greater coordination with international allies regarding crucial minerals and supply chain issues. Researchers, manufacturers, consumers and developers of products and technologies that rely upon crucial minerals and producers of these materials are urgingSenate action on this legislation.
Steps must be taken to revitalize our nation's domestic supply chain and sustain access to these materials that are critical to the manufacture of important products. These improvements would help ensure that American manufacturers have steady access to these essential components, decrease our reliance on foreign sources and support our economy.