President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding domestic production of rare-earth minerals vital to most manufacturing sectors and reducing dependence on China.
The order, which declares a national emergency in the mining industry, directs the Interior Department to explore using the Defense Production Act to hasten the development of mines. The administration has previously used the law to accelerate production of medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Critical minerals have been a focus in the U.S. as China accounted for 80% of total U.S. imports of rare-earth compounds and metals last year. Last year, the White House ordered the Defense Department to spur the production of rare-earth magnets that go inside everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines to missile-guided systems, amid concerns that China could restrict exports of the products amid heightened trade tensions.
Trump signed the order on his way to campaign stops in Minnesota, where he has made particular appeals to miners and residents of the state’s “Iron Range” area to support his re-election.
The executive order stated that the Energy Secretary shall develop and publish guidance to clarify which projects supporting domestic supply chains for the minerals are eligible for a loan program earmarked for clean energy projects. The order also states that the Interior and Energy Departments should encourage the development and reuse of old coal waste areas, material on old mining sites, as well as abandoned mining sites for recovery of the critical minerals.
Two U.S. Congressmen earlier this month introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at reducing dependence on China for rare earths. Separately, the European Union stepped up its push to become less reliant on imports of the raw materials, as the European Commission vowed create a rare-earths alliance by the end of the year.
The order also seeks to “reduce the vulnerability of the United States to the disruption of critical mineral supply chains through cooperation and coordination with partners and allies, including the private sector.”
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