A Rare-Earth Crisis?


Crushing facility for Project Phoenix at Molycorp.

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A somewhat obscure group of elements--the rare-earth elements--have suddenly become a political issue. Critical to the manufacture of high-tech devices such as smartphones, hybrid vehicle motors, wind turbines, solar cells, weapon systems, oil and chemical refining, and more, the rare-earth elements are increasingly in short supply and more expensive as these technologies proliferate. These elements are mainly produced and refined in China, which has recently warned of forthcoming export reductions due to increased domestic demand and restraints on production attributed to environmental concerns. In response to a perceived "rare-earth crisis," some analysts have called for restoring US domestic production of the rare earths, and for challenging China in the World Trade Organization. Others have suggested stockpiling and recycling programs. Join us for a discussion of the rare earths and the policy ramifications of their scarcity, geographic distribution, environmental impacts, and near-monopolistic market.
12:45 p.m.



Panel I: Physical Elements of the Rare-Earth Situation

CINDY HURST, Foreign Military Studies Office
JACK LIFTON, Technology Metals Research
BELVA MARTIN, US Government Accountability Office



Question and Answer

Panel II: The Public Policy Dimension of the Rare-Earth Situation

ANDY DAVIS, Molycorp Inc.
ROBERT JAFFE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Theoretical Physics
LISA MARGONELLI, New America Foundation
FRANCIS SLAKEY, American Physical Society



Question and Answer

Concluding Remarks:


Speaker Biographies

Kenneth P. Green
is a resident scholar at AEI and the interim director of AEI’s Center for Regulatory Studies. For more than sixteen years, he has studied public policy involving risk, regulation, and the environment at public policy research institutions across North America. He has twice served as an expert reviewer for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is a frequent contributor to AEI’s Energy and Environment Outlook series.

Cindy Hurst is an analyst with the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office. Her research has focused on various energy security issues, North Korean drug trafficking, and, most recently, rare-earth elements. Her articles have appeared in Military Review, Joint Force Quarterly, PennWell’s Oil & Gas Journal, the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security’s Security Journal, and the US Army and Marine Corp Counterinsurgency Journal Colloquium. Her work has been cited and used by the international media, industry, governments, and the Department of Defense, and she has spoken at various conferences. Ms. Hurst is a lieutenant commander in the US Navy Reserve.

Jack Lifton is a founding principal of Technology Metals Research LLC. He is also a consultant, author, and lecturer on the market fundamentals of the technology metals, the term that he coined to describe those strategic rare metals whose electronic properties make our technological society possible. These include the rare earths, lithium, and most of the rare metals. Educated as a physical chemist, specializing in high-temperature metallurgy, Mr. Lifton was first a researcher before becoming both a marketing and manufacturing executive. Finally, he became a metal trader specializing in the fields of technology metals and rare metals. Today, after forty-nine years of industry involvement, he advises both the original equipment manufacturer high-tech industry and the global institutional-investment community on natural-resource issues. His work today is principally as a due-diligence consultant for institutional investors. Mr. Lifton is a senior fellow of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and a longtime member of numerous professional societies such as the Philosophy of Science Association, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, the American Chemical Society, and the Metals Society. He also belongs to the United Kingdom’s Minor Metals Trade Association. Mr. Lifton is collaborating with Gareth Hatch on a study entitled "The Global Metals Economy" due to be published by a major imprint in 2012 and intended for a wide audience.

Belva Martin is acting director of the acquisition and sourcing management team at the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). She is responsible for portfolios related to protection of the nation’s critical technologies, including export controls; the defense industrial base; navy shipbuilding, and army modernization programs. Ms. Martin has spent thirty-two years in federal service, including thirty-one with the GAO. Her work has covered a broad spectrum of major management and public policy issues, including government-wide human capital, equal employment opportunity, and diversity issues. She has received numerous team- and GAO-wide awards, including two Meritorious Service Awards.

Benjamin Zycher is a visiting scholar at AEI, the president of Benjamin Zycher Economics Associates Inc., and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He is an associate in the Intelligence Community Associates Program of the Office of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US Department of State. Mr. Zycher served as a senior staff economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers from July 1981 to July 1983. While at AEI, he is finishing a monograph on the economic viability of renewable energy and working on monographs on state spending limits and on energy policies and employment.

Andy Davis joined Molycorp in February, following two years as a strategy and government-relations consultant. He helps manage the company’s government, public, and investor relations work. His previous consulting work for Molycorp helped direct and elevate Washington’s attention to rare earths, the supply and demand challenges, and the nation’s supply-chain vulnerabilities. Before joining Molycorp in-house, Mr. Davis was a vice president at McBee Strategic Consulting, where he provided strategic policy and political guidance, message development, and federal legislative advocacy for venture capital–backed clean-energy technology companies. He also helped clients navigate federal financing support mechanisms, including the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. A ten-year veteran of Capitol Hill and political communication, Mr. Davis served as the communications director for the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where he managed the communications strategy and media relations for issues including the post-9/11 transportation security laws, the Enron investigation, fuel-efficiency standards, and American competitiveness. In 2004, Mr. Davis was the communications director in Senator John Kerry’s Senate office during his run for the presidency. He began his Senate career as part of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s leadership communications staff. 

Robert Jaffe is the Morningstar Professor of Physics and MacVicar Faculty Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A world-renowned researcher and teacher, Mr. Jaffe is an expert on the quark substructure of matter and the quantum structure of the vacuum. He is a fellow of the AAAS and the American Physical Society, where he chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Panel on Public Affairs. At MIT, Mr. Jaffe has served as chair of the faculty and as director of the Center for Theoretical Physics. He has led many university and laboratory advisory committees, including the Science and Technology Steering Committee of Brookhaven National Laboratory, which he chaired from 2005 to 2008, and the Lahore (Pakistan) University of Management Science’s School of Science and Engineering External Advisory Committee, which he chaired during its formative years. Recently, Mr. Jaffe has developed a new course at MIT on the Physics of Energy, which explores the fundamental laws governing the origins, harvesting, use, and storage of energy.

Lisa Margonelli directs the Energy Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation. She is the author of Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank (Broadway Books, 2007). She has written on rare earths for the Atlantic and the New York Times.

Francis Slakey received his PhD in Physics in 1992 from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. His technical publications have received more than five hundred citations. He has also written widely on science policy issues, publishing more than fifty articles for the popular press including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Scientific American. Mr. Slakey has served in advisory positions for a diverse set of organizations, including National Geographic, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Creative Coalition, the political advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a fellow of the AAAS, a MacArthur Scholar, and a Lemelson Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution. Mr. Slakey became the twenty-eighth American to summit Mount Everest in an unguided expedition that was the subject of the movie Beyond the Summit. He is the first person in history to both summit the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean. In recognition of his adventures, as part of the 2002 Olympic Games, he carried the Olympic torch from the steps of the US Capitol.

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A Rare-Earth Crisis?
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