In a move met by applause from at least one congressman, the Energy Department announced a pilot program for research into domestic mining of rare earth elements.
Rare earths are minerals critical to computing technologies and to various military and civilian sensor technologies. China currently dominates the production and market for these elements, with about 85% of the world’s production from its domestic mines.
Another major source for rare earths, not yet exploited, is the South China Sea floor. Part of the purpose of the PRC’s seizure of the South China Sea and of its island-building and militarization of those constructs is to control access to those rare earths and to reserve them for itself.
The US has about 13% of the world’s total reserves, but very little of this is in production: mining efforts aren’t extensive because it hasn’t been economically feasible (or yet politically necessary) to mine seriously. Instead, we’ve been buying our rare earths almost exclusively from the PRC.
We’re very late to this production party, but with Secretary Rick Perry’s announcement, we need to jump in with both feet. This is another area where we have to cease our dependence on our enemies for our own prosperity.