Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) recently held the inaugural event of their new bipartisan Congressional Critical Materials Caucus, with three experts discussing how America can assure a long-term, secure, and sustainable supply of energy critical materials (ECMs).
The event coincided with a floor vote on legislation to help achieve these goals, which Rep. Swalwell has carried in every Congress since 2013. The legislation passed on a 220-185 vote, and now goes to the Senate.
“These energy critical materials are crucial to America’s long-term success and growth,” Swalwell said. “America’s innovation, our economy, and our security must never be held hostage by any other nation. Ensuring we have a steady domestic supply of these materials, without reliance on foreign sources, will keep our nation at the forefront of technical innovation while creating more jobs for American workers. I’m grateful to be working with Rep. Reschenthaler on this important issue.”
“I am proud that today we are holding the first official event for the Congressional Critical Materials Caucus, which will focus on establishing a secure and reliable supply of rare earth elements and critical minerals and end our dependence on foreign countries like China,” Reschenthaler said. “Not only will this work enhance our national security, but it will also create jobs and facilitate economic opportunities in communities in southwestern Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. I look forward to working with Rep. Swalwell and the members of the caucus to advance this important mission.”
ECMs are vital in manufacturing cell phones, laptops, jet engines, gas and wind turbines, petroleum refining catalysts, nuclear reactors, solar panels, state-of-the-art batteries for hybrid vehicles, and a lot more. America’s global competitiveness and security suffers without them, yet the U.S. relies on imports for at least 80 percent of its domestic need for 21 of 35 of these critical minerals.
Some ECMs are special substances that are economically hard to extract. China generates 80 percent of such “rare earth elements,” and in 2010, China temporarily cut off the supply to the U.S., the European Union, and Japan.
Joining Swalwell and Reschenthaler at Thursday’s event were Dr. Adam Schwartz, director of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa; Brian Gabriel, industrial analyst with the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy; and Dr. Brian Anderson, director of the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Dr. Schwartz offered examples of how ECMs are used in energy, defense, and technology, and talked about the most significant gaps in their development and production. Gabriel described some risk factors in America’s material supply chains. And Anderson discussed some of the latest research and technology involving ECMs.
The DOE established a limited-term Critical Materials Institute in 2013 to help ensure a reliable supply of these elements, but neither this institute nor an underlying, ongoing ECM research program have ever been properly authorized.
In September 2019, Swalwell introduced the latest version of his Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act, a bill he first introduced in early 2013. The bill would prevent the DOE from discontinuing this work by requiring it in permanent law, invigorating research and development on using ECMs more effectively and on ways to substitute and recycle them when possible.
The bill’s concept was incorporated into H.R. 4447, the Clean Economy and Jobs and Innovation Act, a bigger package of clean energy and energy innovation initiatives put together by the committees on Energy and Commerce; Science, Space, and Technology; and Natural Resources. The House approved H.R. 4447.
The Congressional Critical Materials Caucus will continue to serve as an informal group cooperating to explore and explain U.S’ dependence on ECMs from foreign countries, and to establish a reliable domestic supply of these resources.