(Washington, DC) –Today, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 6160, the Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2010 with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 324 to 92. The bill authorizes research to address the supply scarcity of rare earth minerals, a category of materials vital to a wide range of applications in fields such as energy, military, electronic and manufacturing technologies. The bill also addresses the larger, long-term issue of critical materials supply.
“We must take steps to recapture our technological lead in a wide range of industries critical to our economic health, our national defense, and a clean and secure energy future,” said Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), an original cosponsor.
“We need to act now to begin the process of creating our own supply of rare earth materials so the United States is never dependent on China—or on any other country—for crucial components for our national security,” said bill author Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA). “My bill is a bipartisan plan to jump start U.S. research and development in rare earth materials to improve our ability to find, extract, process and use rare earths to improve products. We want to ultimately create a domestic supply chain of rare earths to promote U.S. global competitiveness and ensure technologies for our national defense and other industries are Made in America.”
Rare earths are necessary components of such advanced technologies as wind turbines, hybrid-vehicle batteries, weapons guidance systems, oil refining catalysts, computer disk drives, televisions and monitors, compact fluorescent light bulbs, fiberoptic cable, and others.
While the U.S. was once the world’s leading supplier of rare earths, it has produced little since the closure of the nation’s only mine. In recent years, the U.S. has relied on access to cheap supplies from China, which now controls approximately 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths. China is now rapidly building its own high-technology industries that rely on rare earths. To reduce global competition, China began imposing export quotas in 2006, which have gotten steadily stricter, and pressuring manufacturers seeking access to rare earths to produce their technologies in China. China cut its rare earths exports for the second half of this year by 72 percent.
A lack of access to rare earths could severely handicap U.S. manufacturing, impede our ability to transition to a clean-energy economy and threaten our ability to develop superior defense technologies.
“There have been signs that China is willing to leverage its supplies of rare earths for political gain, and cripple manufacturing elsewhere. This is clearly an untenable position for the U.S.,” said Gordon. “We can’t stake our national defense and economic security on China’s goodwill or a false hope that it will choose to compete in a fair and open global marketplace for rare earths.”
The bill sets up a program of research and development aimed at advancing technology affecting rare earths throughout their life cycle, from mining to manufacturing to recycling. The bill also authorizes research to find substitutions for rare earth materials and to find ways to use less of them.
The bill also broadens an existing program of loan guarantees to facilitate the development of these new technologies by private industry.
The legislation is intended to help meet national economic and strategic objectives by supporting existing efforts to overcome our current supply deficiencies, while opening the field to enhanced competition in both the domestic and international marketplaces.
This bill has been endorsed by the National Mining Association and was a key vote for the National Association of Manufacturers.
The House also approved H.Res. 1660, expressing support for the goals and ideals of the Inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival, and H.Res. 1421, recognizing the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.