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Diverse Supply of Rare Earths Needed by U.S., Sandalow Says

The U.S. must diversify sources of rare earths, needed for electric cars and wind turbines, to cut dependence on a few overseas producers, said David Sandalow, assistant Energy secretary for policy and international affairs.

“It is essential that we find a way to globalize the supply chain,” Sandalow said today in testimony to a Senate committee in Washington.

The Senate is considering legislation that would encourage research and development of rare-earth elements and “critical” minerals, which are often used in clean-energy technologies.

Rare earths include neodymium, used in wind turbines and electric vehicles, and lanthanum, used in lighting. China produces about 95 percent of all rare earths and holds 37 percent of known reserves, according to the Energy Department. The U.S. holds 13 percent of known global reserves.

The agency also wants to develop substitutes for rare earths and other materials, and encourage recycling to reduce global demand, according to a “Critical Materials Strategy” released in December.

Lawmakers are concerned that U.S. mining of rare earths is slowed by the permit process in the Interior Department, which oversees minerals development. It’s “an issue of contention in my state,” said Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican. The entire process may take 7 to 10 years, he said.

A company’s permit application takes about four years to win approval, Marcilynn Burke, deputy director of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, told the panel. A 10-year review includes the time from discovery of the minerals to production, she said.

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