(Casper Star Tribune, April 24) – Some folks near Sundance are eyeing a new neighbor, and they have some serious questions. The planned rare-earth minerals mine would be one of only three outside China, which produces the vast majority of rare-earth minerals used worldwide. China’s corner on the market is remarkable, because such minerals are used in so many devices made elsewhere, including smartphones, wind turbines and new military technology.
We’re wholeheartedly behind the development of the rare-earth minerals mine. It’ll add jobs to the Sundance area and boost U.S. production of rare-earth minerals — a boon to national security concerns about a reliable supply of the minerals. Yet we sympathize with nearby landowners, who are just as able to see the value of the mine but are worried about pollution to their air and water, and added dust from truck traffic.
We call on Rare Element Resources, the company developing the project, to do its best to reach out to neighbors and answer their concerns. But we also call on the National Forest Service — which oversees part of the project’s land — to speed along the environmental review of the mine. The mine is too important to dangle at the end of a long, drawn-out permitting process.
Rare-earth minerals aren’t actually rare, but they’re difficult to find in large quantities. China, however, has mined its resources of the minerals and dominates the global marketplace for the minerals. This disparity quickly grabbed global attention when China clamped down on sales of the minerals in 2010. Not long afterward, a Rare Element Resources representative told a crowd at a Gillette energy exposition that China’s move opened doors in the federal government, including the Pentagon, he never dreamed he would walk through. The minerals are increasingly used for military technology, and it’s a national security issue when China is the world’s largest producer and seems willing to chop supply on a whim.
The U.S. and others are currently fighting China in the World Trade Organization over its unilateral decisions regarding its supply of rare-earth minerals, and as recently as late last year China vowed to trim production of the minerals. Those are problems — ones Wyoming can help solve.
That’s why it’s critical the mine near Sundance get built. Of course, the 130 jobs will prove valuable to the local economy, too. But we reiterate our respect for the questions of the landowners. Despite global events, those near the mine will deal with any immediate and ongoing consequences of its construction. We earnestly hope the mine’s neighbors will get the answers they deserve regarding this important project.