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WSJ: Wyoming Hits the Rare-Earth Mother Lode If managed wisely, the discovery at Halleck Creek will make the U.S. the world’s indispensable mineral supplier.

  |   By Polling+ Staff

The mineral motherlode for future “computer chips, smart phones and aircraft engines.”

The Wall Street Journal informs with this headline: Opinion | Wyoming Hits the Rare-Earth Mother Lode

Opinion | Wyoming Hits the Rare-Earth Mother Lode

Michael Auslin

If managed wisely, the discovery at Halleck Creek will make the U.S. the world’s indispensable mineral supplier.

Wyoming Hits the Rare-Earth Mother Lode

If managed wisely, the discovery at Halleck Creek will make the U.S. the world’s indispensable mineral supplier.

The story reports:

“The discovery of 2.34 billion metric tons of rare-earth elements near Wheatland, Wyo., signals the beginning of a new era in the competition for the raw materials that power the global economy. If wisely exploited, this find—estimated to be the richest in the world—will give the U.S. an unparalleled economic and geopolitical edge against China and Russia for the foreseeable future.

The lode at Halleck Creek has the potential to make the U.S. the world’s largest processor of the minerals used to make computer chips, smartphones and aircraft engines. Rare earths are fundamental to advanced economic manufacturing. They are also critical in all military technologies, and thus have become central to national security.

Yet traditionally they also were “dirty” to mine. Production tended to leave water pollution, toxic sludge and radioactive elements in its wake. Environmental concerns led U.S. companies to curtail domestic extraction, and as a result China became the world’s largest refiner of rare earths, accounting for as much as 95% of global production and supply in 2023. Despite a recent increase in refining outside China, the U.S., along with other leading manufacturing countries, relies on Chinese rare-earth exports. And reliance has meant vulnerability, as Beijing has used its near monopoly to bolster its own industries and put pressure on competitors.

The Halleck Creek find is reportedly high in two of the most in-demand rare earths, neodymium and praseodymium oxides, both of which are also low in radioactive byproducts. Exploiting the Wyoming find, along with other mines in Arizona and Nevada, could help power a new generation of American manufacturing, ensure a supply of military-critical materials, and further reduce American reliance on trade with China.

Rare earths are only part of the story of the North American continent’s natural abundance. Despite Biden administration rhetoric against drilling, the U.S. remains the world’s largest oil producer, with 44.4 billion barrels of crude oil reserves, and it exports more petroleum than it imports. And before President Biden moved to limit shipments of liquefied natural gas, the U.S. in 2023 was the world’s largest exporter of LNG. Similarly, the U.S. coal industry is the fourth-largest in the world, producing nearly 600 million short tons in 2022, and is far cleaner and environmentally safe than top producers China and India. U.S. timber and water resources are all but unmatched globally. The capacity to provide for much, if not most, of the country’s domestic energy needs gives the U.S. an unparalleled economic and geopolitical advantage.

Not all is well with the American natural-resource picture, however. For centuries it was the richness of American soil above all that drove settlement. The U.S. is still the world’s fourth-largest agricultural producer, and the world’s largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of rice. Yet since the 1980s, U.S. farmland has dramatically shrunk because of urban expansion, consolidation and environmental regulations. Fruits and vegetables that could be grown domestically now must be imported from Mexico, Canada and other countries.

America’s six million farmers—2% of the population—remain hard pressed, as some 13 million acres of farmland disappeared from 2014 through 2021. In California’s rich Central Valley, another million acres is expected to go fallow over the next two decades to comply with new groundwater regulations—even as the Golden State pumps trillions of gallons of storm water into the Pacific Ocean due to similarly antigrowth regulations.

Smart resource regulation is of course necessary, but we know more today than we ever have about how to protect the environment while powering a diverse economy. If the U.S. refuses to press its natural advantages, it will cede global leadership to China. As crises rear up in Ukraine and the Middle East, Washington will have to ramp up all kinds of production for national defense while ensuring the American standard of living. Halleck Creek may one day be as familiar to Americans as the Comstock Lode or the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Wise stewardship and bold exploitation of the unending bounty of America’s natural resources will help ensure another century of U.S. wealth and security.”

Mr. Auslin is a historian at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

If nothing else this story reminds that life is not stagnant. It does indeed keep moving. And in this case the future beckons.