Gardner urges U.S. development of domestic rare earths supply chain

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) joined several other lawmakers in urging the Trump administration to support the development of a domestic rare earths supply chain that could help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign minerals.

“Ensuring a U.S. supply of domestically sourced rare earths will reduce our vulnerability to supply disruptions that poses a grave risk to our military readiness,” wrote Sen. Gardner and five other senators in two separate April 24 letters sent to both U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

The United States currently is 100 percent import-dependent for rare earths, as well as 13 other metals and minerals on the U.S. Government Critical Minerals List, and more than 75 percent import reliant for an additional 10 minerals, according to the senators’ letters.

Consequently, America’s dependence on China for vital rare earths threatens U.S. manufacturing and the defense industrial base, according to their letters, which said that the U.S. currently has only one operating rare earth mine and no domestic refining capacity, resulting in rare earth concentrate extracted in California being sent to China for processing.

Sen. Gardner and his colleagues wrote that as the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of the Interior work to reestablish a domestic rare earths supply chain, they “must take care that no link in the chain passes through a country that presents risk of supply disruption.”

“Priority consideration should be given to projects that extract and process rare earths from U.S. sources and at U.S. facilities,” the senators wrote.

Specifically, the departments should support quickly resuming a robust domestic production and processing capacity through the procurement, installation and qualification of production equipment for pilot projects that can produce the full range of rare earth elements, as well as other critical minerals they deem to be of particular strategic importance, according to their letter.