While many Americans are not familiar with rare earth minerals, every consumer uses products every day that are very dependent on their production. The U.S. is starting to give more attention to the need for domestic production of these vital resources, considering our current dependence on China for them.
The 17 metals that are classified as rare earth minerals are used in virtually every electronic product. That includes every defense system and device the U.S. military relies on to provide defense to the nation. The global supply of rare earth minerals is currently 90% controlled by China.
The Defense Department recently submitted proposed legislation to the House Armed Services Committee that seeks to address America’s access to rare earth minerals. The request seeks $253.5 million for a program designed to increase U.S. production and inventory. Without a reliable supply chain, the DOD says that American defense systems will grind to a halt in the event of disruption.
Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and have proposed a bipartisan approach to the problem with the REESHORE Act. The bill proposes the development of a larger and more resilient stockpile of rare earth minerals in the U.S. and incentivizes private domestic mining.
Kelly is a former U.S. astronaut and said that he personally observed American dependence on China for the minerals from space. He said that during hundreds of orbits he has looked down on China to see “what looks like lakes of very strange colors.” He pointed out that Chinese production uses methods that create greater pollution than U.S. mining processes.
Cotton said while introducing the bill that if the Chinese supply of rare earth minerals is disrupted, the DOD’s current stockpile would not last a single year.
American production of the minerals is currently severely limited because of environmental mining regulation. However, national security concerns related to dependence on China are leading to increased discussions about enhancing local supplies.
Ronald Reagan Institute director Roger Zakheim recently told Fox News that the U.S. has “essentially ceded” rare earth mineral production to China and the loss of domestic supply impacts everything from “F-35 fighter aircraft to the phones that we use every day in our lives.”