05.27.2011 0

Let the Miners Get Back to Work

NRD Editor’s Note: On July 20, Rep. Doug Lamborn’s legislation, H.R. 2011, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011, passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee by a unanimous vote.  It is unknown when the bill will reach the House floor.

By Rebekah Rast – America is a land of abundant wealth, made up of resources and elements critical to forming the strong nation that it is today. Since the country’s beginning, mining these resources was a no-brainer — they were needed to sustain the people, provide jobs and make America stronger.

But due to an overreach of environmental policies and regulations, the mining industry is not what it used to be. Once productive mines are no longer open, mining communities have split apart and as a result, America’s imports have increased.

In an attempt to gain a better grasp on the nation’s mineral policy, Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn recently introduced H.R. 2011, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011. As Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Rep. Lamborn is concerned about the foreign dependence America has on other nations for valuable minerals and resources needed for the country’s manufacturing sector and defense industry.

Therefore his legislation instructs the Department of Interior Secretary to coordinate a government wide survey of the national mineral policy, mineral supplies, demand and other critical factors impacting mineral development, including workforce, permitting and regulations within six months time.

Minerals of particular importance are rare earth elements, or REEs.

“We need to gather material to form a national policy on rare earth elements,” says Rep. Lamborn. “These metals are key to technological advances.”

REEs are used to make U.S. smart bombs, silent helicopter blades, night vision, missiles, and tank guns, as well as computers, cell phones, DVD players, and other civilian technologies.

Currently, China holds 55 million metric tons of REEs in reserves and 130,000 metric tons of annual production. It now controls more than 97 percent of REE mining and refinement in the entire world.

“By China holding all this supply, at any time they could cut off the supply and then we’d be in a real predicament,” says Rep. Lamborn. “These metals are key components to cutting-edge technologies in defense equipment, medical devices, alternative energy equipment and computers. All these products require some kind of rare earth metal.”

Despite its name, REEs aren’t that rare — America has an abundant supply. In fact, last year, the U.S. Geological Survey released a report revealing 13 million metric tons of REEs exist within known deposits in 14 U.S. states. However, this supply of minerals has become meaningless as it just sits wrapped bureaucratic red tape.

The metals used to be mined in America but the primary mine was shut down in 2002 after a breach of environmental regulations was found, which later caused the mine’s demise. And now the country relies on China to supply the critical material.

Rep. Lamborn’s legislation will provide the essential facts to help strengthen and improve the nation’s mineral policy and put America on the right track to ending its dependence on foreign nations for these minerals.

“The report this legislation requires will show where key minerals are found in the U.S. and what is blocking their access and how vulnerable to shortages we are,” Rep. Lamborn states.

Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG), recently wrote, “Already, the scarcity of the REEs is having an impact on U.S. defense capabilities. According to a Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) summary, ‘A 2009 National Defense Stockpile configuration report identified lanthanum, cerium, europium, and gadolinium as having already caused some kind of weapon system production delay and recommended further study to determine the severity of the delays.’ Unless the U.S. ramps up production, this will only get worse as China tightens the entire world’s supply of REEs.”

The National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011 will start the process of cutting through the red tape and help the mining industry get its feet back on the ground. America should not depend on nations like China to provide critical elements for America’s advanced technologies.

Let the miners get back to work.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG). You can follower her on twitter at @RebekahRast.

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