Monday, we reported on China’s rationale behind their export restrictions on raw materials. As a result of that post, we received an email from a reader who forwarded us this story about China’s strategy to control the world’s supply of rare earths, the metals needed to fuel clean energy. We highly recommend that anybody in the oil refining, clean tech and high tech industries read this article.
But today, we wanted to examine a couple of comments from the article as they relate to US federal policy and legislation regarding rare earth metals. Our particular concern relates to the hastily passed economic stimulus program aimed to stimulate clean tech innovation but without any consideration to the critical metal supply chains. We will also be publishing more specifics on rare earth metals to better articulate which metal supply chains are of gravest concern, and which are less of a concern. In the meantime, when we searched current bills currently introduced in the 111th Congress, we could find few relating to any of these critical metals.
The US News & World Report story indicated that Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) added an amendment to the House’s defense budget bill that would address several issues involving rare earths as they relate to DOD purchases. We won’t re-print the relevant portion of the bill, but Section 828 from House bill HR 2647 can be found here. According to the US News & World Report article, additional legislation has been introduced by Sen. Evan Bayh(D-IN), which would require, the defense department to evaluate the extent to which the country’s weapons are dependent upon rare earth metal supplies “that could be interrupted.” However, we couldn’t find this legislation in any of our searches.
Unfortunately Rep Coffman’s amendment doesn’t go far enough because it only examines these rare earths in the context of DOD purchases. In addition, the amendment still largely involves an analysis and identification of a strategy to address the problem, but the solution may still be some years off, of which some experts report there aren’t enough years left to address the situation given existing supply sources. The Coffman amendment is an excellent start and one that we support but eventually, Congress and environmentalists will need to take a look at their appetites for increasing domestic mining rights and policies to spur domestic mining efforts and joint ventures.
As they say, haste makes waste. When one considers the billions of dollars included in the federal stimulus program combined with the new budget to support a range of clean-tech and new technologies, the need for examining and implementing solutions to address the raw material supply chain challenges for these technologies must become a top priority for both Congress and the Obama Administration, otherwise we can forget about this green revolution.