Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Republicans push mining measure

FAIRBANKS — Resource-focused state lawmakers this spring urged Congress to aid mining for elements used to make modern weapons, emerging-energy technologies and other products.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday responded with a resolution that aims to restart the production of those so-called rare earth elements.

The measure serves as a companion to a similar proposal in the U.S. House. Either one, according to synopses from supportive state lawmakers, would help supply “loan guarantees for domestic (rare earth element) development,” create a national working group to monitor domestic demand and scan international trade practices.

Murkowski said Tuesday that the United States sits on roughly one-seventh of world reserves of the resource — a group of silver-like elements sharing similar characteristics — but imports the bulk of its supply from China.

“America’s growing reliance on foreign minerals endangers our efforts to advance cleaner energy,” she said in a statement. “We have slowly but surely surrendered the front end of the clean energy supply chain.”

Explorers this spring told state lawmakers the mineral-rich Bokan Mountain in Southeast presents a potential bonanza of heavier-weight rare earth elements.

They said the elements are used to manufacture defense industry items such as smart bombs and cruise missiles but also for clean-energy products like wind turbines, solar panels and high-efficiency lighting.

The presentation preceded a resolution from the House Resources Committee.

It ultimately emerged from the full Legislature.

“The bottom line is you can’t go green without good old-fashioned mining, and America’s ability to meet the new business and consumer demand is compromised until we get rare earth minerals back in production,” Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said in April.

Source: By Christopher Eshleman. Published June 23, 2010