By Bob Hamilton-New Radio Star
“An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth-generation stealth jet built to give the US an edge over rivals like China, requires 920 pounds of rare-earth materials, according to Asia Times, which reported that the US has an almost nonexistent ability to produce rare-earth materials”.May 29, 2019 (Google News)
For many years, the U.S. has lived with, and just accepted as status quo, as much as a $600 billion annual trade deficit with China! As trade negotiations to remedy this imbalance proceed, one Chinese negotiator warned that their dominance in Rare Earth metals is their “ace in the hole,” over the U.S.
Amazingly, Western North America has more of these metals than anywhere in the world..but, according to local miners, a group of non-elected, bureaucratic environmentalist agencies, both on the federal and state levels, continue to put up every roadblock to mining available to keep the mines from taking the critical metals out of the ground. This, is reportedly, in the name of what has been exposed as an almost religious and needless allegiance to “the environment” with little regard for man’s needs.
And according to the miners who have dealt with them, the courts just rubber stamp the government agencies with little regard for what the law says.
This story may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but, if you really get the facts, you will find it is not exaggerating to say that the security and survival of the U.S. itself could be at stake. It is an issue that is of paramount importance to every American and if it is not resolved could result in a drastic lifestyle change that will affect….you!
What Would it Take?
What would it take for you to become concerned that China owns and produces 80% to 90% of Critical, Precious and Rare Earth metals and processing plants in the world, and has recently, drastically reduced export of these metals to the U.S.? Would it be when you want to replace your cell phone, you are told there are none available? Or would it be when you went to Walmart to buy that new big screen TV or Laptop or Microwave oven you find the shelves are bare, because China has frozen export to the U.S. of the metals to build them? Maybe it would it be when Chinese fighter planes fly over and you ask where the F-35s are to defend the country, and you find out that U.S. planes can’t fly because there were not enough Rare Earth metals to build them? Aerospace, including satellites necessary to do everything from gyroscopes for missiles, to operate GPS satellites will end without these metals. If you think all of these scenarios are far fetched then perhaps it would be worth your time to follow the path of this story.
And, ironically, if the “environment” is your main concern, without these metals there will be no solar panels, no wind turbines for wind power, no magnetically infused engines and high tech batteries for alternate methods of energy including electric cars.
These are only a few on the list of essential items that will not be built without these critical metals.
How is it possible that the U.S. has no ability to produce these metals, despite an abundance in western United States?
Understand that today, China controls at least 80% of these metals...They have no environmental laws or bureaucracies to delay the mining in their country for even a second. And, separating and processing the metals for market is a complicated affair and almost all of the plants that can do this are in...you guessed it... China. At the moment, the U.S. does not have one facility that can process these metals for production. And the one active mine in the U.S. digging for these metals is partially owned by China and sends the metals to China to be processed, and they are returned as manufactured items, rather than the raw material needed for U.S. manufacturing. China not only has the metals and the ability to process them, they also dominate the technology.. China has thousands of engineers in the Rare Earth metal field..the U.S. has, perhaps, a couple of dozen.
The Story of Mining in the American West...
But, let’s leave the China story for a moment and travel to Oregon where these metals are believed to be in abundance. We’ll come back to China later in this article. Oregon is a state with a great mining history that now dates back to the 1800’s.
U.S. Law...American citizens have the Right to Mine Public Lands
First of all, know that the U.S. has long believed in the importance of mining. The General Mining Law of 1872 spells out the importance and the right for man to mine….
“The general mining laws are presently interpreted as extending an express invitation to enter upon the land and explore and, upon discovery, to claim by location with the promise of full reward. The prospector who enters upon vacant public land, peacefully and in good faith, is not a trespasser, but is a licensee or a tenant at will. This right to enter is a statutory right. A mineral discovery cannot be made without the right of entry and the time to explore. “
(USDA Forest Service - Anatomy of a Mine - From Prospect to Production)
Recently, the U.S. Department of Interior have identified approximately 60 incredibly important metals that come under the heading of “Critical, Precious or Rare Earth.” A complete list is at the bottom of this article.
Sumpter Mining in Oregon - 12 Years Trying to Get Mines Approved
Sumpter Mining and Exploration LLC, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon is just one of dozens of mining companies who have already discovered many of these vital minerals. They have several mining claims in eastern Oregon, but, so far, none have been approved for production. Amazingly, Ed Baldwin of Sumpter has spent over 12 years to get an okay to work his mines in Oregon!
Permits have been held up by every agency from the U. S. Forest Service, BLM, EPA, The Federal Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Oregon State Fish and Game and Oregon DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality). Sumpter and the other Metal miners have to deal with "endangered fish" that ultimately don't exist, to claims of possible violation of the Antiquities Act in a mining area that never used water from the historic El Dorado Ditch the agencies said they were trying to protect.
The list of high hurdles that miners have to clear are long and, some say are constantly moving and changing….Some examples….
As we noted, Sumpter has to deal with the "Antiquities Act," which won't let them move randomly stacked rocks because the "Deep State" (as Sumpter Operations Manager Guy Michael calls the collective agencies) says they are part of the 150 year old, 135 mile long El Dorado Ditch that, under the act "certain items are of cultural significance for history" according to Michael, adding "They had to come up with something new, so now they won’t let us move rocks... that’s insane!, adding, laughingly, “There's an old model T Ford out there and it's been parked out there for over 50 years so it's now an artifact they don't want touched or moved.”
But, BLM has made it even more difficult ...Guy explains
“That famous Eldorado Ditch never supplied water to our Fire and Sage mining claims- but the funny part is, the BLM will not let us have the copy of the supposed survey that claims certain artifacts are even connected to that ditch. They won’t even tell us what some of those artifacts are, they show many flags with only some of them described. So now we have to show them each and every tiny hole that we plan to dig with equipment for our Notice on the Fire and Sage mining claims. What a way to slow the process and make it much more expensive than exploration already is!”
He added “This is not environmentalism! It is something new.”
Guy has been an Oregon miner for over 40 years….He explained how it began…
“How I started mining was in Oregon with a friend who had a suction dredge on the RogueRiver. . And when I said, ‘Well how do you know whether you have something valuable?’ ...I started looking at the dirt that he was suctioned dredging and by golly I saw this yellow thing I picked it up..it was about the size of a rice grain that I showed it to him and his eyes went up and he said Yeah that's it. That's what we're looking for..It was gold and l have been hooked on mining ever since."
Guy and the other miners also have to pass the numerous demands of The Clean Water Act.. In In-stream mining the Clean Water Act guards against pollutants added to the watershed. But, in-stream mining, by suction dredge, adds no pollutants. It's just another long piece of red tape that delays approval to mining.
Then there is NEPA...The EPA Makes Their Own Laws
The National Environmental Policy Act began under Richard Nixon in 1970. The EPA, (Environmental Protection Agency) formed at cabinet level by Nixon, has gained more and more independent power over the years, until, under Barack Obama it wrote almost 4,000 new regulations. The EPA itself requires numerous permits for mining. The ever growing EPA regulations are passed, not by Congress, but, independently, by unelected bureaucrats. The number of regulations under President Obama was far, more than any other President in history. In his time in office, Obama passed a total of 20,642 new regulations over all...laws not voted by the people or by representatives of the people...instead, by political appointees not answerable to the electorate. No Presidential administration has even come close to issuing that amount of dictatorial laws.
The stated purposes of NEPA are: "To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man;" but it appears that man has been mostly taken out of consideration from what seems to be a sort of an environmentalist “cult” that controls the EPA.
Ed Baldwin of Sumpter began applications for mining on the Deer Creek claims in 2003...After the filing was accepted, four years later, by the Forest Service. He expected it to take about two years to complete the NEPA process after that. But, then delays continued..Guy explains, "Well yeah. There was a time when we were very combative in our letters to the Forest Service. We sent a letter and after three years.. four years somewhere down there. I think it was around seven or eight years we were still waiting... In 2014, we finally sent a letter asking very specific questions and they finally refused to answer us.... So I wrote a letter to (Oregon Congressman) Greg Walden and told him, ‘they're not responding.. they stopped responding to these very specific questions.’ And he says ‘well send me the letter and I will send it to them’. And he did. And they had to respond.”
“And of course their response was like we expected.. what they were doing. ‘But we have to do NEPA and we're waiting to get the NEPA requirements all met.’ Well they weren't doing anything they're just 'pigeonholing.' (killing the permit by just not acting) See that's what we have to prove. But that takes money and a lawyer and that puts us out. You know we didn't have the money to go there."
The Courts Are on the Side of the Bureaucrats..Despite the Law
But, Guy has gone to the courts..with little luck. In fact, the biggest block to actual mining may be the rubber stamping courts. When all else has failed Guy knows the law is on his side, and his last resort has been the court system. Guy has spent many years battling the state DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) over a water turbidity ruling that had illegally split one discharge into two different permits. Guy and other in stream miners fought through the courts all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court. Even in the lower courts they had three judges who had to recuse themselves because they were tied in directly to environmental groups. And finally at the last minute the judge they were okay with, retired. A frustrated Guy Michael explained, “another judge came in and just sided with DEQ..he just said ‘Well it sounds right to me’ and sided with them rather than giving us a good explanation as to why they were right or why we were wrong. Oh, man it was horrible!” So, Guy and other miners appealed and finally took the case to the State Supreme Court which said “We’re accepting both permitting...but, none of them have looked at the law...what does the law say? If the Corps has permitting authority then the EPA does not...it’s just that simple.” But, as in every case the courts just rubber stamped the bureaucracies when it comes to their ruling on the environment.
Now, Guy is part of the continuing lawsuit headed by the Pacific Legal Foundation directed to the U.S. Supreme Court . Guy is joined in the suit by several plaintiffs including the Eastern Oregon Mining Association.
But, it's been over 12 years and Ed Baldwin of Sumpter Mining is still waiting for approval of the mining plan..Guy explained ”We’re waiting on the Fish and WildLife Biological Opinion which the Forest Service will base their approval on. And, then we get to see if there are any changes to what we hashed out in the plan long ago.” Meanwhile, the critical metals desperately needed to give America independence from the Chinas of the world, stay in the ground.
These well known delaying tactics from the agencies have also sent needed (sometimes millions to expand production) investors scurrying away from the west coast and especially Oregon, into the welcoming arms of other countries who are ready to mine the valuable metals. And, while it might seem that the U.S. could buy the metals from the other countries, the early indication is those countries plan to use them for their own needs, both economically and militarily.
The Irony is that these metals are also needed for solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and batteries so essential to the environmentalists stated goals. So, while they are keeping the mines from production they are keeping their own favorite products from being made in the U.S.
Things May Change...President Trump Has Signed
an Executive Order to Streamline the Process
But, there may be some hope that things will change.
In less than three years, President Donald Trump has slashed Obama’s regulations and red tape and among things, saved coal mining and made the U.S. oil independent for the first time in many years. The U.S. is now even exporting oil. The President, unlike any of his predecessors is very aware of the need for the Critical, Precious and Rare Earth metals and he’s also aware of the delaying tactics of the bureaucratic agencies.
In December of 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order instructing various
Departments such as Defense, Interior and Commerce to "streamline" the process from exploration to extracting the critical minerals for market.”
One of the key items in the order is a change in "streamlining leasing and permitting processes to expedite exploration, production, processing, reprocessing, recycling, and domestic refining of critical minerals."
The President, in the order, notes that these critical minerals “are vital to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity. This dependency of the United States on foreign sources creates a strategic vulnerability for both its economy and military to adverse foreign government action"....
We asked Guy Michael if he has seen anything change since the order was signed by the President two years ago…”Doesn't feel like it, but, I can say that... the only thing is some things are changing as we have rare earth element processing plants being built..”
Guy was referring to plans for the first plants to process and bring these metals to market in the U.S. Australian company Lynas has teamed up with U.S. chemical company, Blue Line Corporation and they are building the first rare earth’s separation facility in Hondo, Texas, just outside San Antonio. And there are reports that other plants may be built in California and Alaska. Currently, China has almost complete world wide dominance over processing the metals.
The U.S. Interior Department has also followed through with the Executive Order as the President instructed, and they have identified over 60 metals in the groups labeled “Critical,” “Precious” and “Rare Earths.”
And, in June of 2019, they issued a report titled “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals” ‘A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals’ The report outlines several goals...
“Specifically, this Strategy identifies 24 goals and 61 recommendations that will:
⦁ help identify new sources of critical minerals;
⦁ enhance activity at all levels of the supply chain, including exploration, mining, concentration, separation, alloying, recycling, and reprocessing;
⦁ seek to stimulate private sector investment and growth of domestic downstream value-added processing and manufacturing;
⦁ ensure that miners, producers, and land managers have access to the most advanced mapping data; and
⦁ outline a path to streamline leasing and permitting processes in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
Given the crosscutting nature of critical minerals issues, pursuing the goals and recommendations in this Strategy demands adaptive, coordinated efforts across the Federal Government.”
And, knowing the delaying tactics used in the Clean Water Act, the instruction now is to “Evaluate Sections 404 and 408 of the Clean Water Act and Sections 10 and 14 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and develop recommendations to streamline and improve the permitting process. (DOD [USACE]; 2-4 years)”
Mining Doesn’t Happen Overnight
People within the mining industry know the importance of lead time in exploring and developing a prospect, before submitting a plan. The only way to be sure of future mining operations is to allow normal prospecting in as big of an area as possible. If suddenly there is a crisis need for a vital mineral, it often results in poor planning and hurried work that can mean not only very expensive costs, but, possible damage to the surface environment.
This has happened in the past. 25 years ago the U.S. government suddenly became alarmed at the lack of uranium ore which weakened the country’s ability to defend itself as well as meet energy needs. The government put out an alarm with special incentives for uranium production.
The good news is that new areas were discovered and Uranium mining has grown to the point of being one of the biggest minerals economically in the U.S. But, it took 10 years after the alert was issued to get to that place.
Remember also, that only a very small percentage of prospects develop into producing mines;...as low as 1 in every 5,000 to 10,000, so once again, lead time is important!
Now let’s take another look at China….
For decades the Chinese have enjoyed a massive trade imbalance with the United States numbering in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Most recent stats show that the U.S. spend as much as 600 billion more in buying Chinese goods than the Chinese do in the U.S. For many years, Donald Trump lamented the imbalance, which includes the Chinese paying little attention to U.S. ownership of intellectual property from music and video games to high tech security technology and weapons. As President, Donald Trump vowed to correct trade agreements with China and he has followed through to what is deemed a trade war with the Chinese.
One of the aspects of trade that some Chinese leaders have labeled their "ace in the hole" in negotiations with the U.S. is their dominance in Critical and Precious Metals, including "Rare Earths." These metals are vital for the U.S. economy and national security. What are they used for? You could almost answer what are they NOT used for...microwaves, cell phones, computer screens and hard drives, automobiles and on and on...take these metals away and our daily lives wouldn't even begin to resemble the conveniences and high tech we are totally reliant on.
While China is thinking of these metals and the processing as a lever in the "trade war" with America, they already had made up their mind to use it to boost their economy, particularly, their manufacturing.. They reportedly have limited the export of these metals to a much smaller percentage. If you have a product that needs these metals then you have to build your manufacturing plant in China. It’s normally assumed the reason a company like Apple builds its iPhone in China because of low labor costs...but, an even bigger reason may be because that's the only way they can get the critical metals needed to build those devices.
Amazingly, it is growing environmental concerns that are also a driving force for the need for pressure metals. Electric and hybrid vehicles, high tech batteries and solar power are spreading worldwide. Besides China, many other countries have turned to mining the metals. While the U.S. normally might buy the metals from those countries there is an obvious indication they are less willing to sell as they need the metals for their in-country needs. This makes it even more urgent that the U.S. develop its own metal industries...both mining and processing. We have one Rare Earth mine in America and no processing facilities.
They’re Killing Mines in the West
Meanwhile, Sumpter and the other Oregon miners who are ready to deliver these essential minerals, wait..“We've made this discovery and now we're expanding it and developing it ...getting it put together,” Michael explained, but added, “After you've lived through it and have seen its effects then you realize..uh oh... they're killing us ...they're not only killing us..but, our culture, our economics here in the West. There's nobody new coming in to mining. I mean they're killing the mining industry. The logging industry is just about shot in some places...and this is the point I want to get to...They're destroying the environment. They don't even know what their ideology is doing. They're saying ‘well we've got to get man out of the forest.
We need more wilderness areas for the plants and animals.’ ” Guy explains that miners care about the environment and have no desire to harm it…”I love the forest...I love the smell of pine trees.” he added.
While there were trees when the Euro settlers came to the U.S. in the 17th and 18th century, they soon realized that it was important to plant more trees as they cut them down for homes, buildings, etc. After World War II veterans needing jobs were assigned to plant more trees, so the forest is now overpopulated. “Taxpayers paid for those plantings..it was taxpayers money,” Guy explained. “Beginning in the 70s the environmentalists were able to block the thinning of trees and the cleaning up of the forests... Instead of man being involved in the forest where they are a part of it, they have done all they can to keep people out. A part of our forest is now gone because the Forest Service has been saying well we don't want man out there so that limits roads, limits logging, limits mining. And so what happens is there's a fuel load out there that's so massive that when it goes it burns so hot it sterilizes the land.”
Guy noted after a recent massive Oregon fire, 20 elk were found in one draw and 50 deer in another.. Trapped because of the smoke and then burned instantly to death because the fire burned so hot they had no time to escape…”Dead and ..no ..I mean that's all at once! Well those woodpeckers and birds and animals and fish that are in those streams and lakes are all dead because of that fire. Can you imagine? I mean that's worse than the predators. When miners and loggers were up there with their equipment, they were involved in the forest and could help put them out quickly, before they could spread.”
Call to Action
So, as we asked at the beginning of this article, what would it take for you to realize the enormity of the situation in keeping mines from being able to extract such critically needed elements. At first it seems obvious that the reason metal mines have been stopped for years is because of overzealous bureaucratic environmentalists. But, they seem to be doing a better job of protecting China’s dominance of these metals than they do the environment. China is both an economic and a military competitor of the U.S. To be at their mercy on either front is inviting a large scale disaster. There are two bills that have been introduced in Congress, one each in the House and Senate, generally labeled as the Rare Earth Cooperative bills. Experts say, with a Congress that is essentially dysfunctional, there is little hope they will pass. However, having more members of Congress joining as co-sponsors will signal support to the White House. That, in turn will be a motivation for the President to press even harder for his two year old “Streamline the Process” executive order. That order essentially calls for a fast track that would open up metal mining in the west.
What may happen, by the way, is that the President will likely create a task force to oversee the “Streamline” and that the rules the agencies the agencies impose will be revised.
While it may seem like a waste of time, Washington metal experts say it would have an impact for you to contact your Senator and House Representatives and express your concerns and support for the bills.
And most of all, it is important you stay informed on the developments of metals mining in the coming days and support those fighting to bring America to self reliance, in order to minimize the influence of a China that does not share the free Republic ideas that America was founded on.
Critical, Precious and Rare Earth Metals
Critical metals, according to an official list from the U.S. Department of the Interior include luminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, the rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium.
There is a third group generally termed "Precious Metals" and that would include Gold, silver, platinum and the platinum group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, and iridium).
The 17 rare-earth elements are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y). They are often found in minerals with thorium (Th), and less commonly uranium (U).