Miners praise U.S. spending bill that funds rare earths programs

Energy & Environment

Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) - The pandemic aid and spending package signed by U.S. President Donald Trump last Sunday includes more than $800 million to fund rare earths and strategic minerals research, spending that mining companies say will help counteract China’s dominance over the sector.

The $2.3 trillion, 5,593-page bill essentially codifies Trump’s executive orders on rare earths, a group of 17 minerals used to make magnets for electric vehicles, other green technologies and weapons.

The bill requires better geological studies of federal lands, funds studies into the processing and recycling of rare earths, and supports improvements to mining education programs.

The National Mining Association, the industry trade group, as well as Energy Fuels Inc and other rare earth companies praised the bill’s minerals clauses.

Reviving domestic rare earths production has become a priority for Washington as relations with China have frayed.

The bill "will enable the United States to increase the responsible production and processing of critical minerals," said Senator Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Senate's energy committee, who introduced minerals legislation last year that was folded into the larger bill here.

The law requires the U.S. Geological Survey to forecast metals demand much like the Energy Department forecasts oil demand, a step that miners say will help them better plan projects.

"This bill is something that the U.S. needs in the near- to medium-term to refresh investment in renewable energy, especially after COVID-19," said Mark Saxon, chief executive of Medallion Resources Ltd, which is considering building a rare earths plant in Texas here.

Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, added a clause to the bill requiring an annual report from the director of national intelligence on China’s overseas mining investments.

“This bill is a bipartisan win and a watershed policy for a U.S. mine-to-magnet supply chain,” said Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth, which is developing a rare earths project with Texas Mineral Resources Corp.