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U.S. Deposits of Rare-Earth Elements Are . . . Not So Rare, after All

This morning, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Chinese government perceives its “its dominance in strategic rare-earth minerals as leverage that can be used against the West — including in trade disputes with the U.S., according to a new report by U.S.-based researchers. Rare earths are metals used for a variety of advanced technologies, including computer screens, high-tech weapons and electric vehicles.” A new report contends Beijing is prepared to use its rare-earth industry “as a geopolitical weapon.”

Right now, the only U.S. domestic source of rare-earth minerals is the Mountain Pass mine in California. As I noted back in December, the United States is sitting on a massive supply of rare-earth metals. We just haven’t worked out a way to access it in a way that environmentalists find acceptable: “According to mining experts, Bear Lodge is home to one of the richest and highest-grade rare-earth deposits in the U.S., with an estimated 18 million tons of rare earth inside.” A U.S. Geological Survey report completed last year detailed the potential of nine other deposits around the country.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy has provided a grant for a $1.62 million, three-year project to extract rare-earth elements from the ash of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal.

The United States could counter China’s attempt to strong-arm us or the rest of the world through rare-earth elements. We just need the mining companies and environmentalists to work out the methods of extraction, and a political consensus that we don’t want our economy to be at the mercy of Beijing.

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