Inland Rep seeks to boost domestic production of earth elements

RIVERSIDE – An Inland Empire lawmaker is seeking to ramp up rare-earth mining throughout the United States to secure elements necessary to meet defense needs, rather than allowing foreign entities, mainly China, to dominate the field of production.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Temecula, on Tuesday introduced the Materials Essential to American Leadership and Security (METALS) Act, which would create loan facilities aimed at encouraging U.S.-based companies to get back into mining rare-earth elements.

“The U.S. must no longer be wholly dependent on foreign sources of strategic and critical materials,” Hunter said. “The risk of this dependence on national security is too great, and it urgently demands that we re-establish our depleted domestic industrial base.”

Hunter pointed out that China is the leading importer of strategic materials to the U.S.

“Over the past decade, the U.S. has lost its capacity to produce these materials and ceded this ability to foreign nations,” he said. “In fact, the last major domestic producer of rare earth elements declared bankruptcy in 2015, shuttered its California mine and processing plant and sold a portion of its assets to the Chinese.”

The congressman said ammonium perchlorate, a propellant for missiles and space vehicles, as well as thorium, which fuels nuclear reactors, come from overseas suppliers, placing the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage.

The METALS Act would establish the Strategic Materials Investment Fund, from which qualifying firms could procure five-year, interest-free loans to pay for startup and ongoing mining operations.

The funds would be drawn from the Department of Defense budget, according to Hunter.

He said the bill would also prohibit the acquisition of rare-earth mines in the U.S. by foreign interests.

“The bill supports the U.S. domestic industrial base by aiding domestic investment opportunities, and consequently mitigates the risk of a supply chain interruption for materials that have become essential for American military superiority,” Hunter said.

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