The bill notes that 25 years ago, the United States depended on foreign sources for 30 minerals, but that in 2011, U.S. demand for 67 minerals is satisfied through trade. And increasingly, foreign production, particularly in China and India, is making it harder to secure these minerals.
It also allows for flexibility for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, including by allowing state standards to be deemed as meeting certain environmental conditions. It also seeks to prioritize the maximum recovery of these rare earths.
"In developing the mineral exploration or mine permit, the priority of the lead agency shall be to maximize the development of the mineral resource, while mitigating environmental impacts, so that more of the mineral resource can be brought to the market place," the bill says.
Rare-earth minerals are widely seen as a set of 17 minerals used in defense and by high-tech manufacturers, and are increasingly seen as a strategic asset both for economic and national security reasons. But the bill defines "strategic and critical minerals" as any needed for national defense and security, energy infrastructure, manufacturing or to secure the nation's "economic security and balance of trade."
The World Trade Organization is planning a meeting next week to discuss China's export rules for rare-earth minerals, and whether they violate international trade rules.