WASHINGTON — Energy savers such as the Toyota Prius are favored by environmentalists hoping to save the planet, despite the fact that several of the car’s key components need certain minerals that must be extracted through mining, a process they despise.
Strategic minerals used in the Prius include lanthanum and cerium for batteries, yttrium in the component sensors, dysprosium and terbium goes into the motor and generator, and neodymium is used for the headlights.
These and other minerals are also needed to manufacture solar panels, iPods, and high tech defense equipment, but mining projects to obtain the needed components have been blocked for years because of bureaucratic stalling and lawsuits filed by environmentalists, says Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo. Springs).
“Sometimes our government goes along with these extremist environmentalists,” Lamborn said. “Sometimes they settle lawsuits giving them everything they want plus legal fees making it harder to use natural resources for the public good.”
That’s why Lamborn is sponsoring legislation called the ‘‘National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013’’ to require the Interior secretary to assess the capability of the U.S. to meet the demand for the resources.
“This will make it possible to identify the roadblocks and then to streamline the permitting process to get around these roadblocks while still being responsible for environmental concerns,” Lamborn said.
Geologists estimate that $6 trillion worth of 15 rare earth minerals could be mined in the U.S., however 96 percent of the world’s supply is located in China.
“China is a big producer of rare earth metals in particular and they sometimes use that for economic leverage on other countries. They embargoed some rare earth metals a couple years ago to Japan that were desperately needed for manufacturing, because they were having a dispute,” Lamborn said.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, told the House Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources chaired by Lamborn last month that recent economic trends point to enormous growth and job creation in the U.S. if this mining is allowed to perform to its potential.
“If we do not and become increasingly marginalized, the consequences are severe for our nation’s global competitiveness, forcing us to become more reliant upon extended and unstable supply chains for what we can produce here,” Quinn said.
Strategic and critical minerals are also essential to manufacture certain national defense equipment, items for agriculture, renewable energy, and everyday items such as televisions, computers and the light bulb.
But the U.S. is 100 percent dependent on foreign sources for rare earth minerals, and continued opposition from environmentalists will likely keep it that way.
“You would think they would welcome the mining of rare earth metals because they do play such a big role in high technology, and cleaner green products are included in that,” Lamborn said.
For Colorado, Lamborn’s legislation will mean more high-paying mining jobs that will boost the local economy. But domestic mining isn’t just about jobs in the mines, its thousands of geologists, biologists, and environmental engineers, and tens of thousands of jobs in the industries that support miners through equipment and supplies, Lamborn said.