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China, the rare earth metals crisis & Obama’s green agenda

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By Michelle Malkin  •  October 5, 2010 04:58 PM

President Obama is pushing solar panels and other green technology pet projects as a way to create jobs and promote energy independence.

What his eco-radical bureaucrats won’t mention is that they are simply trading one type of foreign dependence for another: From Saudi oil…to Chinese rare earth metals.

As some of you may have read, the Chi-coms are flexing their regime muscle as the world’s dominant producers of the precious minerals used to manufacture solar panels, electric cars, wind turbines, and other environmentally correct products. China accounts for 95 percent of the rare earth metals market:

Its market dominance came in focus this month when industry sources cited concerns Beijing was apparently holding back shipments to Japan. A Japanese trading firm source has said China ended the de facto ban, but Japanese customers are looking elsewhere for supplies.

The incident fueled concern that clean-energy products could become more expensive and harder to manufacture outside of China.

“This concentration of production creates serious concerns,” David Sandalow, U.S. Assistant Energy Secretary for Policy and International Affairs said at a congressional hearing on the matter. “It goes without saying that diversified sources of supply are important for any valuable material.”

After years of obstructing the industry, Democrats are now rushing to re-open rare earth metal mines in the face of this national security threat. The last one shut down in 2002. It could take up to 15 years to get it back up and running again.

Four words: Too little, too late.

Energy analyst Paul Driessen warned of the danger posed by restrictive, short-sighted green handcuffs:

So here we are, long beholden to foreign powers for petroleum – and newly dependent on foreign powers for “green” energy. National security issues (direct defense needs and indirect dependency issues) once again rise to the fore, and the Defense Department, Government Accountability Office, House Science and Technology Committee and others are busily issuing reports, holding hearings and expressing consternation. Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN) worries that the United States is being “held hostage.”

As well he should. However, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves – or more precisely in our militant environmentalists…

…As of 1994, over 410 million acres were effectively off limits to mineral exploration and development, according to consulting geologist Courtland Lee, who prepared probably the last definitive analysis, published in The Professional Geologist. That’s 62% of the nation’s public lands – an area nearly equal to Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming combined – primarily in Alaska and our eleven westernmost Lower 48 states. Today, sixteen years later, the situation is much worse – with millions more acres locked up in wilderness, park, preserve, wildlife refuge, wilderness study and other restrictive land use categories, or simply made unavailable by bureaucratic fiat or foot-dragging.

Due to forces unleashed by plate tectonics, these rugged lands contain some of the most highly mineralized mountain and desert areas in North America. They almost certainly hold dozens, perhaps hundreds, of world-class rare-earth deposits. The vast mineral wealth extracted from those areas since the mid-1850s portends what might still be there, to be discovered by modern prospecting gadgets and methods. But unless laws and attitudes change, we will never know.

How ironic. First eco-activists lock up the raw materials. Then they force-feed us “renewable energy standards” that require the very materials they’ve locked up, which we’ve never much needed until now. Thus China (and perhaps other countries a few years hence) will happily fill the breach, creating green jobs beyond our borders, selling us the finished components, and using our tax dollars to subsidize the imported wind turbines, solar panels and CFL bulbs that are driving energy costs through the roof.

Reap. Sow.

***

More reading:

The Politics of Rare Earth

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