Pentagon to prepare plan for Congress on boosting U.S. rare earths stockpile

By Jacqueline Feldscher 10/01/2020 12:30 PM EDT

The Pentagon on Thursday committed to sending Congress a plan within the next month on how to increase the national stockpile of rare earth minerals and reduce reliance on China.

Context: Rare earth minerals are elements and metals are that used in most modern technology from cell phones to flat screen televisions. They play a critical role in the military communications, computers and electronic displays that are part of most major programs.

Despite the importance of rare earth minerals to the national security industry, America is reliant on China for most of its supply.

The news: Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee urged Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, to begin stockpiling rare earth minerals to protect the supply chain from Chinese interference during a hearing Thursday. Lord said the department has some authorities to begin working across the government to reduce reliance on China, especially under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday to expand U.S. production of rare earth minerals.

But Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who chairs the panel’s Readiness Subcommittee, asked what more Congress can do to speed up the process, especially given lawmakers’ role in establishing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an emergency supply of oil to protect any disruptions created after the Middle Eastern oil embargo in the 1970s.

“Would it be better to have Congress do that?” Sullivan said. “We really need to get on this.”

What’s next: Lord promised Sullivan a “fairly detailed plan” within the next month on what additional authorities the Defense Department needs as well as how much it would cost. It will then be up to Congress to appropriate funds and give the Pentagon more power.

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