By Ed Cowle
Exploration + Processing
After one year in office, President Obama has developed a disappointing energy policy, which should earn him a four-out-of-10 rating.
As domestic oil supplies dwindle and our dependence on foreign oil increases, the Administration is fixated on the economy, health care, Afghanistan and Iran. Meanwhile, no comprehensive energy strategy or legislation has emerged.
However, it hasn’t been all that negative. The Obama Administration and Congress have recognized the need for change in two important energy areas: nuclear power and rare earths. In the case of nuclear energy, President Obama has acknowledged that it will be a vital part of the nation’s energy production in the future.
The recognition of nuclear energy’s potential to address the nation’s energy needs means that the process of assures the nation’s access to clean, nuclear energy will continue. This clears the way for important progress.
Regarding rare earths, the Congress has shown that it realizes that to achieve “green” energy sources, the nation must have a domestic supply of rare earth elements, or “technology metals,” that are essential to the manufacturing of magnets, wind turbines, car batteries and defense systems. In recent years, rare earths have become increasingly important because they are critical to today’s modern technology, from cell phones to computers.
Many energy and defense experts have, until recently, been unaware that the nation’s future technology and clean energy development is largely controlled by the Chinese, who are the world’s dominant supplier of rare earth elements. Most importantly, the Chinese have threatened to limit future access to these crucial elements.
A growing awareness of the use of these metals in missiles and other modern defense technology is increasing awareness of the need to resuscitate U.S. supplies of rare earth elements.
An important milestone occurred on October 29, 2009, when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. This legislation requires the Government Accounting Office to report to the Department of Defense by April 1, 2010, with a detailed description of the rare earth supply situation for our nation’s weapon systems. This is the first step in redeveloping domestic rare earth element supplies, the domestic production of which has vanished since the Chinese began undercutting prices of these elements and simply priced U.S. suppliers out of the market.
Despite disappointing results in much of the energy sector, President Obama has made significant strides regarding nuclear energy and rare earths. Now the Obama Administration must deliver on these commitments pertaining to nuclear power with loan guarantees and research funding to ensure progress.
Additionally, the Administration must act to help us assure our domestic rare earth supply and end our dependence on the Chinese, by promoting critical domestic rare earth mining developments, such as US Rare Earth’s Lemhi Pass (Idaho, Montana) and Diamond Creek (Idaho), which contain both light and heavy rare earths, by reopening the closed light rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, California, and by encouraging the rebuilding of the United States’ rare earth-based permanent magnet production industry.
Of course, this is only a beginning. It is now time for the President to act on a comprehensive, long-term energy strategy that includes coal, oil and natural gas and that will guarantee America’s energy independence in the years ahead.
Ed Cowle is the CEO of US Rare Earths (www.usrareearths.com) in Salt Lake City, which owns the mineral rights to one of the two largest rare earth resources and reserves in the United States.