The big news this week in the world of rare earth metals involved President Obama signing the US National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which mandates the General Accounting Office (GAO) conduct an assessment of the rare earths used in US Department of Defense (DOD) supply chains, according to Jeff Green who lobbies on behalf of various companies within the rare earth metal industry.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Green stated. “This will help establish a baseline for the industry.” The GAO will also report on the long-term vision of the DOD for rare earth metals. Green states the GAO will find that the DOD has taken their own independent assessment of the issue surrounding supply constraints of rare earth metals seriously.
The GAO will report back to the executive branch by April 2010. Our friends over at Terra Magnetica also covered this story and asked the question, “Will 5-6 months be long enough to review the issue?” According to Green, “It will be tight but the GAO has some mitigation tools to address the time issue.” They can issue interim reports.
Some of the feedback we received from the recent conference on rare earths in Washington DC had to do with “next steps for the industry.”
Organizations such as the DMTC (Defense Metals Technology Center) see themselves as a broker to facilitate a coordinated approach among all rare earth industry stakeholders. “We’re very excited about the provision in the act [the defense authorization act],” said Michael Dovilla, of the DMTC. “Rare earths are heating up as a policy issue. People are hearing it in the international marketplace and we are trying to bring together folks from mining, permanent magnets, processors, ore refiners, government, the strategic stockpile etc.”
According to Dovilla, there is no shortage of events but, “to get the industry to come together and get American policymakers to start paying attention to the issue of securing the metals defense supply chain, well that’s what we are focused on right now.”
At least the US government has started to pay attention to the critical supply issues involving rare earth metals. And if it takes some lobbying on this issue in terms of strategic defense (as opposed to clean-tech applications which also rely on these metals) — well, it’s better than nothing.