Sharing Our Progress
What better way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon in Wyoming than with your friends – federal, state and local leaders, community members and shareholders – sharing the progress we’ve made and our vision for the future. Rare Element Resources, along with General Atomics, had that pleasure when we held an open house on Monday, October 9, in Upton, WY, to celebrate our ceremonial groundbreaking on our rare earth processing and separation demonstration plant.
It was great to see so many familiar faces at the Upton Community Center. As I stood before the standing-room-only crowd, I realized that only in Wyoming would you find such strong support from such a diverse group of people for an undertaking that is critical not only to the community but for the state and the nation.
Project supporter, Governor Gordon, could not join us in person but sent an inspiring message of congratulations via a pre-recorded video that we played for those gathered. Jennifer Thomson from his staff attended as his representative.
We were fortunate to be joined by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who reminded us through his remarks how uniquely suited the great state of Wyoming is, through its rich history of responsible mineral development, to play a key role as our nation strives for self-reliance and away from dependence on others for critical rare earth minerals. He shared his vision of what a rare earth supply chain could look like for the people of Wyoming and his fears for a nation that must rely on China for these essential building blocks, for not only our high-tech world but for many military defense applications.
Also in attendance were members of the staff from both Senator Lummis’ and Congresswoman Hageman’s offices. Among our other friends from the State in the room were Chuck Gray, Wyoming Secretary of State; Curt Meier, Wyoming State Treasurer; Rob Creager, Executive Director Wyoming Energy Authority; Representatives Don Burkhart, Chip Neiman, and Allen Slagle and Brandi Harlow, Wyoming Business Council.
Upton Mayor, Nick Trandahl, spoke about the Company’s history with the town and expressed his appreciation and ongoing support for the project. He also shared his personal experience with rare earths. He told about his time in the army and firsthand knowledge of the importance of rare earths in weapon guidance systems. He continues to see Bear Lodge as a very important project in what he deemed “these increasingly turbulent times.”
Neal Blue, Chairman of General Atomics and defense industry titan, gave the audience insight into how critical rare earths are in permanent magnet motors (PMM) and how important PMM are in electric propulsion and energy generation. As one of the largest military contractors, he also pointed out the role rare earths play in allowing micro-processing to continue to reduce in size to the atomic level and in military applications, like the launch and recovery systems for aircraft carriers. He expressed his concern about the enormous economic leverage China has through their current monopoly of rare earths and stated how important it is that America retain its leading edge in providing advance technology. He sees the demonstration plant as being a significant first step in addressing those concerns. Linden Blue, Co-Chairman, and Alec Gordon, COO of GA-EMS, also attended the event in demonstration of the significance of the project to General Atomics.
I want to personally thank the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, the Shell 3D Visualization Center, Cole James and Program Manager, Kyle Summerfield, for the work they did in creating what I think was a very unique experience – allowing us to share our plans for the demonstration plant with visitors through a virtual reality tour. This immersive experience let participants feel like they were walking inside the plant amongst the processing equipment, which is currently being assembled offsite and will be moved to the site in the coming months.
The UW College of Engineering and Physical Sciences’ Innovation WYrkshop Makerspace, led by Rebecca Austin and including students Nick Matter, Madison Manning, Colter Helm and Joel Kirchner, provided the 3D model of the plant to help people visualize what we will be constructing in Upton over the next several months.
The goal of the demonstration plant is to produce a separated, high-purity neodymium and praseodymium oxide as well as other rare earth products. Data generated by the demonstration plant will be used for design scale up of the process and equipment and to generate the economic data for a commercial-size facility. Members of the design team from General Atomics and Rare Element Resources were present to answer questions from our guests.
This community gathering highlighted the strong partnerships that have been built, and how the people of Wyoming band together when working towards a common goal. I believe our rare earth demonstration plant is a big first step in what will continue to be a great partnership with the state of Wyoming. It is also a major milestone in our quest to build a secure, domestic supply chain for the rare earths so critical to our country’s economic health, our continued technology leadership, and our national security.
Thanks to all who took time to celebrate with us.
Time to Change a Broken System
Jun 12, 2023
Great news. On June 2, 2023, Congress took a major step in addressing the issues surrounding the permitting process for mining projects in the U.S. The permitting reforms that were approved could provide resource development companies like ours more confidence in the federal permitting process and most importantly, a defined timeline.
A growing awareness of the dangers of reliance on China, Russia and other unpredictable and unreliable nations for critical minerals and materials was the driving concern behind these reforms. While both the Biden and Trump administrations acknowledged the risk this dependence represents to national security, they had yet to take any meaningful action to help address the permitting process issues that were hindering any near-term solutions. Until these measures were approved, we were all subject to an antiquated system that was neither effective nor efficient and resulted in commonly experienced lengthy delays and expensive and unreasonable demands. Fortunately, that is changing.
While the U.S. can be a source for many of the critical minerals essential to advanced and green technologies – Bear Lodge in the case of rare earths – companies like ours face a federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process that can routinely take seven to 10 years or more. Complicating this lengthy process was the ability of the oversight agencies to conduct overly broad and imprecise analysis as part of the process. The reform sets limits for both the time and scope of the review process without diminishing the protections provided under NEPA.
There were three major components to the reform. First, it imposes timelines for new project reviews. An Environmental Assessment (EA) is expected to now take one year, and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will now take two years. It also provides companies with recourse if the work is not completed by the federal agency in a timely manner. Second, it has a provision for companies to prepare and submit their own EAs or EISs. All the same work would be done but completed by the proponent company and then submitted to the oversight agency for review. In areas where several projects are being permitted and agency resources are limited, this will save considerable time in the process. Lastly, the reforms put in some limitations on the concept of “reasonably foreseeable” when applied to the impacts of a project. This should help keep reviews focused on a more reasonable spectrum of potential impacts.
These changes will allow companies like ours to have a better expectation of the process and reduce significant costs resulting from lengthy delays. Most importantly, it will help bring the production of these essential minerals to the nearer term, lessening our country’s dependence on others and assuring we continue to be a leader in evolving technology. While more work on mine permitting reform needs to be done, this is a great start.