Rare Earth Mineral Production, Federal Lands and American Minerals and Security Act, S. 1317

This article from the Colorado Springs Gazette talks about a bipartisan bill to encourage mining of rare metal deposits. They reported on a Colorado School of Mines professor, Morgan Bazilion, testifying to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.

Bazilian is director of the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

He testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as it considers legislation that creates incentives for U.S. mining companies to extract more of the minerals to make rechargeable batteries, solar panels, wind turbines and consumer products.

Manufacturing them often requires use of rare earth elements such as lithium, cobalt and yttrium.

Most rare earth minerals used in the U.S. come from China, where regulatory and environmental obstacles are less stringent and costly. Minerals commonly are extracted from open pit mines that are unlikely to win permits from U.S. regulatory agencies.

Nevertheless, new clean energy technologies cannot do without them, Bazilian said.

“The future energy system will be far more mineral- and metal-intensive than it is today,” he told the Senate committee. “Many of these advanced technologies require minerals and metals with particular properties that have few to no current substitutes.”

U.S. Geological Survey studies show large rare metal deposits in Colorado, particularly in the Wet Mountains and San Juan Mountains.

A leading legislative proposal in Congress to encourage more U.S. development of rare earth minerals is the American Mineral and Security Act, S. 1317.

It would require the Interior Department to maintain a list of minerals critical to U.S. economic prosperity and national security. Regulatory agencies also would be charged with improving processes to find, develop and use the minerals for industry.

You can see if there are rare earth minerals spotted by the USGS on these maps. Which even an old GIS-impaired person can use. Some appear to be on FS, although to what extent the FS would regulate vs. it being a locatable mineral, I don’t know.

I think it’s interesting because it’s one of a list of products (1) is something people need and (2) it can be produced from US lands but (3) the choice is to pay folks in other countries with potentially less stringent environmental regulation, and who may not always be inclined to sell them to us. On the pyramid of pristinity, of course, mining is possibly the lowest.

It seems to me that a rational approach would be to suggest:
(1) our country’s demand and use is the ultimate source of environmental damage, not the producer. By buying resources from other countries, we are implicitly accepting our responsibility for their environmental damage. This decoupling of responsibility seems to be assumed.
(2) there is some utility to being diverse and resilient to market forces and not dependent on other countries (especially when there are relatively few).
(3) if we produce, we can regulate in a way that is meaningful to us,
(4) if we produce, we get jobs (seemingly high paying), taxes, and if it’s on federal land, $ back to the feds (and for oil and gas, the states).
(5) to me, it’s conceptually different if we have it and don’t produce it, compared to not having the resource at all, which necessitates trade as a source.

For those of us who remember the oil crises of the past, we may not understand all the ins and outs of the geopolitical consequences of dependence for today, but our experience has not been good.

But what if we decided to take environmental responsibility for our own demand (in cases where we have that resource), and produce what we consume ourselves, or at least enough to make us resilient to market and geopolitical forces?

And what should be the role that federal land would play in that? Politician wise, we have the current Gov. of Colorado who called for less regulating of solar and wind on federal land, and we have current Presidential candidates who want to stop oil and gas leasing on federal land. Should the openness to activities on federal land depend on The Pyramid of Pristinity or the Pyramid of Climate Utility?

8 thoughts on “Rare Earth Mineral Production, Federal Lands and American Minerals and Security Act, S. 1317”

  1. I agree with you – we shouldn’t outsource the degradation that comes with mining to other countries with less regulations. If given the choice between 1) having a smartphone for 2 years and more mines in my favorite mountains; or, 2) having a phone for 6 years and fewer mines, I would definitely choose to keep the phone longer. Problem is it is hard to see the connection between a personal choice and the impact, and it is also hard to even keep electronics functioning that long the way they are built/programmed.

    If we were serious about this as a society we could find ways to make product longevity and reparability a priority. But this is not where the incentives lie in our system. Our culture of needing new things, the latest-and-greatest things, is unsustainable — particularly for electronics. I guess I can dream for a change in this way, but probably unlikely in my lifetime….

    (I do think that sooner or later mining our landfills for these rare earth minerals might be a profitable venture.)

    • I think Bazilion is saying that if we ramp up “rechargeable batteries, solar panels, wind turbines” as part of climate change action, we will also have to ramp up rare earth mining. It’s not so much what we need today as what we need to ramp up.

  2. RE: I do think that sooner or later mining our landfills for these rare earth minerals might be a profitable venture.

    For about 25 years now many of us in the environmental community have advocated for “mining” our landfills…after you reduce and reuse, of course.

    The Story of Stuff, narrated by Annie Leonard (Who’s now the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA) also did a great job talking about many of these issues, including the concept of “Planned Obsolescence and Perceived Obsolescence.”

    • Matthew Koehler – “For about 25 years now many of us in the environmental community have advocated for “mining” our landfills…after you reduce and reuse, of course.”

      I understand that, but I don’t see how that can be done cleanly. I don’t really even know if recycling prior to landfill is done all that properly in the first place. The United States and Canada send all their e-waste junk to China, while the European Union sends it to Nigeria, Ghana and other African nations who all make toxic attempts at recycling gold, copper and other rare earth metals.

      Over here in Sweden they have no landfills. Everything gets burned for energy. Metals and glass are separated first. Plastics which come from our plastic recycling containers throughout all Swedish cities are not recycled, but also burned for fueling electrical energy and steam heating generation. While I like the idea of no landfills and making energy from waste, the process also pumps tonnes of CO2s into the atmosphere. An Australian journalist made a documentary about it.

  3. The problem with electric cars as with all other forms of alternative energy is definitely in the mineral extraction that goes with the rare earth materials needed to make those batteries and also how the electricity is generated. Electric cars aren’t going to improve the environment much if the way that electricity is generated is still dirty. Aside from the massive strip mining environmental destruction required on all physical landscapes globally, the fossil fuels needed by all that heavy mining equipment, fossil fuels used for transportation of rare earth elements from overseas and delivery of materials to factories (powered by fossil fuels) for manufacturing electric cars must be huge. Most of your average people on Earth who click the “LIKE” button on a Facebook page advocating alternative energy never ever consider this. Are there any factories or heavy manufacturing facilities which use alternative energies to operate ? Just curious.

    Then there is the same problem with alternative energy that conventional energy technology has, what to do with waste, in this case E-Waste. The alternative Energy leaders themselves have brought up this concern. Again, Google is your friend.

    Some new recent developments over here in Europe have surfaced which appear to be very dire and worse than CO2s released into the atmosphere. Actually I’d never heard of this, but the problem is increasing as electricity is pursued as the ultimate answer. This article came from the BBC 7 days ago. Solar Farms and Wind Turbine Farms are increasing this risk. Maybe others know more about this, but I’ve never heard of this Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6 greenhouse gas:


    One of the other dirty secrets is the manufacturing of those neodymium magnets which are necessary for wind turbine electricity generation to happen at all. The process is so dirty because it requires intense fossil fuel run rare earth refineries to use intense furnaces to process the ores and the incredibly toxic tailings are dumped into landfills of lakes. Too dirty for European or North American companies to manufacture because of regulations, which opens the door for China to step in. They are all too happy to oblidge.


    There’s no real materialist answer here. But if it helps, I don’t have the answer for us either. The world’s nations could begin by complete disarmament and obolishing all their militaries. Think of all the energy savings and massive savings in destroying things. But realistically how likely is that ??? But there is such a thing as logic and common sense when utilizing biomimicry which is replication of things observed in nature. Unfortunately what does hinder biomemetics and stifles technological advancement is if the scientist is shackled and committed to a religious dogma known as “Argument from Poor Design” and frankly, I’ve never considered anything about nature to be flawed, only human thought and reasoning.

  4. It could help lower demand (as well as clean up the mess) if consumers had to pay the real price involved in extraction of the raw materials, including complete reclamation. New legislation like this would help: https://www.wyden.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/TheHardrockMiningAndReclamationAct_2pager.pdf

    This is focused on reclamation of abandoned mines, but also importantly would eliminate (essentially free) “patenting” of federal lands and increase royalty payments. Of course other countries won’t do the same thing and would undercut us unless we can create an incentive through international trade negotiations (and who knows, maybe tariffs).


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