(h/t to RareMetalBlog) Two U.S. senators from Alaska and a U.S. representative from Colorado are steamed about what they perceive is the Department of Defense’s lax attitude toward the strategic supply of rare-earth elements. Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski along with Representative Mike Coffman last week dispatched a long letter to DOD Secretary Robert Gates to express their concerns about the agency’s dependence on non-U.S. suppliers of REE.
“[E]arly indications are the DOD has dismissed the severity of the situation to date. Based on initial discussions with the DOD Office of Industrial Policy, we understand the effort to precisely ascertain and fully comprehend DOD consumption of certain rare earth elements is still an ongoing effort. In our view, it is a fundamental responsibility of DOD industrial Policy to have a comprehensive understanding of the security of our defense supply chain, which requires understanding detailed knowledge of the sources and types of components and materials founds [sic] in our weapon systems.
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Despite the uncertainty surrounding DOD consumption, DOD Industrial Policy Director Brett Lambert was recently quoted as saying, ‘the U.S. must only survive a few more years of Beijing’s dominance over rare earths minerals supply and pricing, then American and key allies should be able to turn the table.’ He has also argued market forces will naturally bring new supply sources on-line in the foreseeable future. However, the new sources of rare earths projected to be available in the near-term are primarily light rare earths. The recent Department of Energy Critical Materials Strategy notes some the most critical materials are heavy rare earths.
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[M]anufacturing capabilities required to convert materials into the components needed for our defense systems are virtually non-existent in the United States Today and tour our knowledge, no prime contractor has long-term supply agreements to ensure access in a fully secure supply chain. Given the dwindling domestic supply chain and struggle to accurately identify DOD consumption of rare earth elements, we respectfully disagree with Director Lambert’s initial assessment.”
The three elected officials go on to recommend that the DOD demand contractors account for all REE consumption, define the agency’s current and future demand for REEs, and propose “real solutions on rare earth availability” in its upcoming report to Congress (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011).
Murkowski is the ranking member on the Senate Energy Committee. Begich sits on the Senate’s Commerce, Science, & Transportation and Armed Services Committees. Coffman has weighed in on REE issues before and in 2010 introduced the Rare Earth Supply chain Technology and Response Transformation (RESTART) bill. It should be noted that Alaska is one of several states that may have exploitable REE reserves, and Colorado is home to MolyCorp.