FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

FY 2013 Defense Authorization Bill: Critical Materials

Richard M. Jones
Number 144 - December 10, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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With passage of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act last week by the Senate, the way is now clear for the House and Senate Defense Authorization Committees to meet in a conference where differences between the two bills will be resolved.  The calendar is working against the conferees.  The new Congress will meet on January 3; all bills not passed before that date will die and have to be reintroduced.  Current thinking is that a final defense bill will go to both the House and Senate for passage before that date, maintaining an unbroken record of the annual enactment of this bill that extends for more than a half-century.


A year ago a subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on energy critical materials at which a report issued by the Panel on Public Affairs of the American Physical Society, an AIP Member Society, and the Materials Research Society, an AIP Affiliated Society, was discussed.  Also reviewed at this hearing was H.R. 2090, the Energy Critical Elements Advancement Act of 2011.  This bill, introduced in 2011, was referred to three House committees; no subsequent action was taken.  In 2011, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on S. 1113, the Critical Minerals Policy Act,  but no further action was taken. 

Senate Action:

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) offered the following amendment on November 29 while the Senate was considering the defense authorization act.  It was agreed to by the Senate by unanimous consent, an expedited floor procedure.


   “(a) Policy of the United States.--It is the policy of the United States to promote the development of an adequate, reliable, and stable supply of critical and essential minerals in the United States in order to strengthen and sustain the military readiness, national security, and critical infrastructure of the United States.

    “(b) Coordination of Development of Supply of Critical and Essential Minerals.--To implement the policy described in subsection (a), the President shall, acting through the Executive Office of the President, coordinate the actions of the appropriate federal agencies to identify opportunities for and to facilitate the development of resources in the United States to meet the critical and essential mineral needs of the United States.”

House Action:

The House Armed Services Committee included in the following language in its report (page 286) accompanying its version of the defense authorization bill:

Recycling of Rare Earth Elements

“The committee is aware that in its December 2011 report entitled ‘Critical Materials Strategy,’ the Department of Energy states that the heavy rare earth phosphors, dysprosium, europium, terbium, and yttrium, are particularly important given their relative scarcity combined with their importance to clean energy, energy efficiency, hybrid and electric vehicles, and advanced defense systems, among other key technologies. While new sources of production of rare earth elements show promise, these are focused primarily on the light rare earth elements. The committee notes that the recycling of end-use technologies that use rare earth elements can provide a near-term opportunity to recapture, reprocess, and reuse some of the rare earth elements contained in them.

“The committee believes that fluorescent lighting materials could prove to be a promising recyclable source of heavy rare earth elements, and the committee believes the Department of Defense can increase supplies of heavy rare earth elements by performing a cost-benefit analysis on the viability of recycling its own fluorescent lighting waste for use in defense systems. While the committee is concerned that rare earth materials are being lost due to inadequate recycling efforts, the committee believes that the recycling of such elements, as well as the maturation of new sources of production and a developmental effort focused on alternatives to heavy rare earth elements, are necessary components of a prudent strategy to address global demand for these elements.

“Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees by March 1, 2013, with its recommendations on how the Department of Defense can capture its fluorescent lighting waste and make the material available to entities that have the ability to extract rare earth phosphors, reprocess and separate them in an environmentally safe manner, and return these rare earths into the domestic rare earth supply chain. The report should specifically address disposal and mitigation plans for residual mercury and other hazardous byproducts to be produced by the recycling process. The report should also specifically establish recommendations to prevent the export of such heavy rare earth materials obtained from U.S. Government sources to non-allied nations.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics