September 22, 2011

CNASers on the Hill: Hearing on Rare Earths & Foreign/Security Policy

I had the honor of testifying to
the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on rare earth
. Other than the Chairman misstating that I attended Ohio
University (rather than THE Ohio State University), I think it went well.

are becoming a hot topic these days. The New
York Times
had yet another big piece
on China’s rare earth exports
last week. To boot, this subcommittee’s
Chairman, Don Manzullo of Illinois,
has someone from the State Department detailed to his committee working hard
on the rare earths issue, and he has been seeking information and dialogue with
key players from around the government on this topic for months. This is
important work, and you’ve got to commend Rep. Manzullo for taking it up. We
need to improve relations with China, and what should be working level issues
like minerals supply chains should not be standing in the way.

House hearing

I mentioned in my remarks, natural resources getting to the point of becoming
security and foreign policy problems is not inevitable. These situations tend
to be rather predictable, and the federal government just being more vigilant in watching for the warning signs can go a long way. In our May 2011 minerals report, we recommended various ways of doing this – integrating minerals supply disruptions or embargoes into war games, supporting recycling programs, funding R&D for substitutes, and just promoting interagency information sharing can help ensure that the U.S. government minimizes the strategic importance of mineral resources and prevents other countries or companies from exerting political leverage over the United States through simple market dominance.

saw some really positive signs from the House in this hearing. First and
foremost, I’m thrilled that several Congresswomen and Congressmen are taking
the issue seriously and working to develop deep understandings of the issue and
policy course corrections. Second, seabed mining came up quite a bit, which I’d
bet is the first sign of what’s likely to be a growing concern over this (and,
subsequently, UNCLOS ratification). Finally, there seemed to be a pretty good
consensus that this is not a regulatory or legal problem. That’s good news, and
it was great to sit at a table with industry folks who are using power co-generation, innovating to minimize water consumption, and developing energy
efficiency and clean energy technologies. I know Solyndra is the main alt
energy company grabbing headlines this week, but here were three businesses creating
clean energy jobs at a hearing about how this all ties to foreign policy. In my
world, it doesn’t get much better than this.

going back to my opening line: it really is an honor to be able to testify to
Congress about our work. I was telling my officemate this morning that if
someone told me in high school I’d be testifying to Congress someday, I likely
would have put my walkman headphones back in and laughed hysterically. It’s a
great reminder of how lucky we are to live in an open society that allows
economic mobility, free speech, and much more.

also…hope this can be a step toward solving the rare earths conundrum. It would
be great to make this a non-issue in our relations with China.

Photo courtesy of CNAS's own amazing Joe Natividad.