UPDATE: Domestic Rare Earth Mining as a Solution to Chinese Monopoly

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By: Victoria Clontz, Staff Member

By the end of 2017, over 5 billion people are expected to be mobile phone users.[1] This estimate becomes all the more significant when considered with the fact that 97% of the rare earth metals, the materials used to make high-tech products like cell phones, produced in the entire world come from China.[2] This dominance over the production of such important minerals has put the United States, along with European Union countries, in the precarious position of relying on virtual monopoly holder.[3] The U.S., joined by the EU and Japan, filed a complaint against China’s unfair pricing and supply tactics with the World Trade Organization.[4]

In response to China’s dominance, several companies have begun developing plans for domestic drilling in the various rare earth deposits located in the US.[5] One of these companies, Molycorp, located in Mountain Pass, CA, owns what is reportedly one of the “greatest rare-earth deposits in the world,” almost double the size of the largest deposit in China.[6] The Mountain Pass mine was once the world producer of rare earths, but was forced to close operations in 2002 due to the low-price competition from China.[7]
As with all mining processes, environmental hazards remain a concern among communities and government agencies alike.[8] However, the cost of playing by China’s rules may very well be too high for US manufacturers to continue.
[1] Zoe Fox, 5 Billion People Will Use Mobile Phones by 2017, Mashable, http://mashable.com/2013/10/03/mobile-phones-2017/ (last visited Oct. 7, 2013).
[2] Russia Vies to Challenge China’s 97% Monopoly on Rare Earth Metals, RT.com (Apr. 26, 2013, 9:21AM), http://rt.com/business/production-china-rare-metals-402/.
[3] Id.
[4] Paul Martyn, Rare Earth Minerals: An End to China’s Monopoly in Sight, Forbes (Jun. 8, 2012, 3:17PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/06/08/rare-earth-minerals-an-end-to-chinas-monopoly-is-in-sight/.
[5] Id.
[6] Martin Zimmerman, California Metal Mine Regains Luster, L.A. Times, Oct. 14, 2009, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/14/business/fi-rare-earth14.
[7] Id.
[8] Lindsey Hilsum, Are Rare Earth Minerals Too Costly for Environment, PBS (Dec. 14, 2009), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/asia/july-dec09/china_12-14.html.