By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
An executive order aimed at expanding the country’s production of critical minerals could be a boon to both producers of rare earth minerals and uranium, according to a leader in Wyoming’s mining industry.
Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said President Donald Trump’s executive order, signed Sept. 30, should ease the way for companies hoping to produce rare earth minerals in northeastern and southeastern Wyoming.
“We’ve got the resources and interest in development, so the president’s executive order is a big deal,” he told the Cowboy State Daily.
Rare earth minerals are widely used in high-technology products including computers, camera lenses and television screens. According to Trump’s executive order, America imports 80% of its rare earth minerals from China.
Trump’s executive order declared America’s reliance on foreign producers of rare earth minerals such as neodymium, lanthanum and cerium — primarily the Chinese — a national emergency.
The executive order asks members of Trump’s cabinet to look into ways the federal government could stimulate mineral production through grants, the streamlining of permitting processes, changes to tariffs and possible restrictions on Chinese imports.
Northeast Wyoming is home to one of the richest rare earth deposits in the world, Deti said, and the company Rare Element Resources has been working for almost a decade to obtain the permits necessary to begin production.
“They were pretty active during the Obama administration, but the red tape and everything slow-rolled them, so the project has been put on hold and they are trying to get it back on track,” he said. “We do have the resources and it could be very helpful to get these guys up and running.”
Another company, Western Rare Earths, is interested in producing rare earths in an area of northern Albany County, Deti said, and could also benefit from the executive order.
Because the executive order references not only rare earth minerals but all “critical minerals,” it could also contain some help for Wyoming’s uranium industry, Deti said.
Wyoming is the nation’s leading uranium producer, with five companies still running production operations, although Deti said production has been “negligible.”“(The executive order) is for critical minerals and that includes uranium, so there could be some assistance there,” he said.
The executive order was also welcomed by Gov. Mark Gordon, who said it could ease government restrictions on Wyoming’s mineral industry.
“As the world demand for minerals, particularly those critical to national security, has increased, our ability to mine and process those minerals has been hampered by underpriced competition from foreign countries and Washington, D.C.’s inaction to promote the domestic production of these minerals,” he said in a statement. “President Trump’s executive order will reverse that trend.”