Not by some stroke of luck but more of a force majeure, the U.S. House of Congress on Thursday cleared a proposed law to increase the output of rare earths and other highly coveted metals and minerals, effectively clearing for the resurrection of its domestic rare earths mining which it suspended over 20 years ago partly due both to environmental concerns and falling global demand and prices.
The US government, through its Department of Energy, will allot some $120 million to fund the creation of a rare earths research facility that will aid the economic leader lessen if not totally cut off its dependence from China, the world's stronghold of the essential 17 precious elements.
The bill passed 256-160, with the 234 Republican-dominated House joined by 22 Democrats. However, it still remains to be seen if the bill will pass the Senate as well as the White House, since both fear the potential environmental hazards that could be brought by new mining projects.
However, intensifying domestic production of the minerals, essential to make high-tech military, clean-energy and medical products, is supported by the general bipartisan in the U.S.
In a report released in 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy said supplies of several rare earths and minerals needed to support clean-energy applications, such as neodymium and dysprosium, face "critical" supply levels in the next 15 years. This has forced many U.S. lawmakers as well as the country's very own mining sector to pressure the federal government to develop a plan that will aid the increase of production as well as create stockpiles of its rare earths.
The U.S. used to be self-reliant in the production of rare earths, but because of environmental concerns and falling global demand and prices, its rare earths mining sector closed shop, effectively turning over the market to China more than 20 years ago.
China's dominance of rare earths production, on the other hand, had caused a strain to global stock piles of the mineral.
China, which has since fed more than 95 per cent of the world's demand for rare earths, had started implementing export curbs of the essential minerals since 2009, prompting the U.S., along with the European Union and Japan, to take arms and file subsequent complaints before the World Trade Organization.
"Just like the United States' dependence on foreign oil causes pain at the pump, Americans will soon feel the impact of China's monopoly on the rare- earth element market," Rep. Doc Hastings, (R., Wash.), chairman of the House natural resources committee, was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.
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