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Rare Earth Elements in National Defense

or in national research and development centers designed to train students, scientists, and engineers.

Institute a New Critical Minerals Program

Should DOD determine that rare earths fall into the classification of critical minerals, Congress could institute a new Critical Minerals Program. In the early 1980s, there existed a Critical Minerals Program aimed at warning Congress about potential supply shortages, protecting strategic materials, and keeping an inventory of those minerals on hand in order to mitigate a supply shock.62 This program ended in the 1990s as the consensus within Congress grew that the market could handle mineral supply disruptions without government intervention. Two decades later, at a 2010 hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee on rare earths, one policymaker suggested that the time has come to revive the program:

This is not the first time the Committee has been concerned with the competitive implications of materials such as rare earths. In 1980—30 years ago—this Committee established a national minerals and materials policy. One core element in that legislation was the call to support for “a vigorous, comprehensive and coordinated program of materials research and development.”

Unfortunately, over successive administrations, the effort to keep that program going fell apart. Now, it is time to ask whether we need to revive a coordinated effort to level the playing field in rare earths.

In particular, I want to learn if there is a need for increased research and development to help address this Nation’s rare earth shortage, or if we need to re-orient the research we already have underway.

Based on my review of the written submissions, it appears that we could benefit from more research both in basic and applied materials sciences. 63

Develop Partnerships with Allies to Diversify the Supply Source

Congress may encourage DOD to pursue joint ventures with other nations, as many other nations are seeking alternatives to a near total dependence on rare earths from China. These partnerships may take place at any stage of the supply chain. It is critical for DOD to consider the implications

In the first session of the 99th Congress, the role of the Critical Minerals Program was the subject of a hearing before the House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Transportation, Aviation, and Materials. At the hearing (held October 8-10, 1985), Robert N. Broadbent, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior, testified: “The Strategic and Critical Minerals Program of the U.S. Geological Survey provides a continuing assessment of the Nation’s endowment of strategic minerals and a continuing analysis of the world’s mineral resources for the formulation of national minerals policy and the identification of secure sources of minerals that are critical to the security, industrial production, and economic well-being of this country and that are vulnerable to disruption in supply”; http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/aviation-united-states-congress-house-committee-on- scien/the-national-critical-materials-act-of-1984-hearings-before-the-subcommittee-o-tin/page-2-the-national-critical- materials-act-of-1984-hearings-before-the-subcommittee-o-tin.shtml. The testimony can also be viewed at http://www.archive.org/stream/nationalcritical00unit/nationalcritical00unit_djvu.txt. 62

63 Statement of Bart Gordon, Chair, House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Hearing on Rare Earth Minerals and the 21st Century Industry, March 16, 2010, http://sciencedems.house.gov/publications/OpeningStatement.aspx?OSID=2803.

Congressional Research Service


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