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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BOND. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to talk about the biggest problem no one's ever heard of--America's 100 percent dependence on foreign countries for our rare earth needs--and to introduce legislation that is an essential part of the solution.

If you are at all like me, you may be scratching your head over what exactly are rare-earth metals?

To go back in time a little, more so for some than others, when you were studying the Periodic Table in high school chemistry, rare-earth elements are the metals you were told you would never have to worry about.

Unfortunately, that is the problem--until recently, no one was worrying about rare-earth elements.

But in fact, these metals are critical to U.S. economic and national security.

Back to that high school chemistry class again, rare-earth elements are metallic minerals that significantly enhance the performance of other materials.

These elements are used in small amounts in about every advanced industrial product--we are talking about a wide array of products that Americans depend on every day--from MRI machines to cell phones to computers.

In addition to being an essential component in everyday high-tech products, rare-earth elements are also necessary to our defense industrial base.

Precision guided missiles, secure communications, advanced jet engines, unmanned aerial systems, smart munitions, stealth technology and advanced armor all are rare-earth dependent systems and technologies.

Rare-earth elements also hold unique chemical, magnetic, electrical, luminescence, and radioactive shielding characteristics for environmental and ``green technology'' applications--like hybrid car engines.

Despite the importance of rare-earth elements, the United States is currently 100 percent import-dependent for our rare-earth needs.

Let me spell that out for you--while the United States today is the world's sole economic and military superpower, there is not a single U.S. or North American company actively producing rare-earth elements, metals, alloys or rare-earth magnets.

The United States Geological Survey, USGS, the National Academies, and the National Materials Advisory Board have all determined that rare earths are ``Strategic and Critical'' to U.S. Industry and National Defense.

Yet, the U.S. is 100 percent import dependent upon these materials?

How could we have let this happen?

How could we let a critical component of our economy become beholden to foreign entities?

Concerns about the world's dependence on rare-earth minerals are not just some attempt to read the tea leaves about some futuristic problem.

In fact, the problems for some of our allies have already started.

Over the past several months, Japan has sounded the alarm over their inability to acquire supplies of the rare earths to their companies.

What if our own Nation's ability to import rare-earth elements was restricted or stopped all together?

According to a Government Accountability Office report, GAO, earlier this year, it could take as long as 15 years to rebuild our rare-earth industry.

Common sense tells us that--considering our dependence on rare-earth metals--we don't have another day to waste.

That is what this bill I am cosponsoring today with my good friend, and fellow retiring colleague, Senator BAYH, is all about.

Our legislation will promote the domestic supply and refinement of rare-earth minerals.

It is time to take necessary actions to redevelop a domestic resource of rare-earth elements.

A domestic resource that will ensure we protect our national defense, technology-based industries, and the industrial competiveness of the United States.

Currently, there are no active rare-earth production facilities in the Western Hemisphere.

However, the Pea Ridge mine in Sullivan, MO, is one of two permitted, but shuttered, mines in the United States.

It is here where, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the greatest concentrations of both light and heavy rare-earth elements exist, particularly those needed for the defense industry.

Rare-earth ore, or oxides, extracted from these mines need to be reduced into a more pure elemental state before being used by industry.

Redeveloping our rare-earth capabilities will be no easy task--in fact, the hurdles for financing such a refinery are significant.

The cost to construct a modern rare-earth refinery capable of supplying a U.S. consumption of 20,000 tons per year is estimated at more than $1 billion.

I do not believe it is practical or desirable for the United States to depend upon any single rare-earth mining company to supply our Nation's rare-earth production or supply chain requirements.

This is why our legislation will require a feasibility study on building a U.S. cooperative refinery to process rare-earth ores from mines in the United States or other allied countries.

Such a cooperative, similar to our successful agricultural co-ops all across rural America, will set the stage for the U.S. Government to establish reserves and protect national security.

To brag on my home State for a minute--Missouri would be ideally suited for the location of a cooperative refinery, given the importance of the Pea Ridge deposit.

Missouri's experienced mining and minerals-processing workforce, its favorable access and costs to the utilities needed to operate a refinery and central location and transportation infrastructure all make Missouri well positioned to help preserve our Nation's strategic and economic security.

In dealing with the tremendous costs of establishing a production and refining facility, the legislation would also provide the Department of Defense $20 million to support the defense supply chain and also $30 million for the development of rare Earth magnets.

The time has come for our country to act and for this Congress--certainly the next Congress--to take the necessary steps to secure our economic and strategic future. By ensuring that our Nation has its own domestic supply of rare Earths and the ability to process them, we should be able to compete in the 21st century.

The bill Senator Bayh and I have introduced will do just that. While introducing legislation during the last days of the lameduck may seem like a ``Hail Mary,'' this issue is too important to continue to ignore, and we felt it was necessary to launch a ``Hail Mary'' in hopes there will be others of our colleagues who will catch it and run with the ball in the next session of Congress--to mix up the metaphors badly.

In fact, ignoring our growing rare Earth needs and the overseas dominance and China's monopoly is how we got into this mess. Senator Bayh and I have laid the groundwork for this bill, and I hope my colleagues in January will call it back up and see it passed.

The bottom line is this: Just as we cannot afford to be dependent solely on foreign oil cartels for our Nation's energy, counting on any one or a few countries to supply all of America's rare Earth needs crucial to our technological innovation and national security needs is too risky a bet.

I thank my colleagues for listening. I hope they will take up the ball in the next Congress and make sure we begin to deal with this very important problem very seriously.


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