Rare earth minerals. (Peggy Greb/USDA)

A legislative committee advanced a bill that would authorize the state to apply for primacy over federal permitting and licensing that guides the management of rare-earth-element mining’s radioactive byproducts.

Lawmakers and industry representatives believe the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality can permit and oversee the management of rare earth materials containing uranium and thorium more quickly and efficiently than the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which may entice more rare earth mining in the state. 

“We’re laying the groundwork here to attract these companies, and it’s important to note we’re in competition with other states to build this industry,” Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti told members of the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee in October. 

The minerals committee unanimously approved the draft bill, Source material associated with rare earth mining agreement. If passed by the full Legislature, the measure would authorize the state to apply for primacy over the federal program. Wyoming obtained primacy over certain aspects of federal permitting and licensing for uranium mining about 10 years ago. If approved by the NRC, Wyoming DEQ would essentially expand its existing program to also include rare-earth mining “source material.” 

Rare earth elements are critical in the manufacturing of computer components and batteries like those in electric vehicles. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Establishing the rare earth source materials program would require about four years of rulemaking and other preparations, according to DEQ, at an annual cost of $460,000. That money would come from the state’s general fund. The ongoing expense of managing the program, including additional staff at DEQ, would cost an estimated $555,000 annually. However, DEQ expects it would recoup those costs via permitting and licensing fees paid by the industry. 

Rare earth minerals

The technology and renewable energy industries are driving up demand for rare earth minerals — metallic elements essential to manufacturing cell phones, computer components, medical devices and advanced batteries like those in electric vehicles. Analysts see China’s domination of rare-earth-minerals production as a threat to U.S. energy independence and potentially even national security. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $407 million for research and development to expand the nation’s capacity for rare earth production.

This map depicts the location of the proposed Bear Lodge rare earth mining facilities in Wyoming. (Rare Element Resources)

Surveys to better define Wyoming’s rare-earth-mineral resources are underway at the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources and the Wyoming State Geological Survey. In addition to naturally occurring rare earth deposits in the state, the efforts include studies to determine the viability of extracting rare earth elements from coal ash and water co-produced with oil and natural gas.

“We’ve got a lot of this stuff in the ground, and we need to expand our mining operations,” Deti said. “This is the opportunity to bring in that new sector.”

Two companies have thus far proposed rare-earth mining projects in Wyoming. Rare Element Resources has drilled test wells for its proposed Bear Lodge Project in northeast Wyoming, while Western Rare Earths is analyzing the potential to establish a mine in Albany County. Neither has yet applied for an NRC license. But the developers expect that Wyoming DEQ could help expedite what is typically an arduous, years-long federal permitting process.

“Our momentum [at the Bear Lodge mine] is extremely valuable,” Rare Element Resources President and CEO Randy Scott told the legislative committee. “We’re pleased that our demonstration plan process with the NRC is moving forward at a reasonably good clip, but it’s still not as efficient as it could be” if Wyoming DEQ were the lead licensing agency.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. How do they reclaim the land. This company is out of Vancouver Canada. They will receive the profit just like the uranium mine Smith highland.No reclamation done there.we need to do check on Gordon and Barrasso .

  2. Thanks Dustin. Looking forward to watching this story as it is covered (or uncovered—-hope you keep digging). Interesting isn’t it; how the usually quiet and mostly overlooked little berg of Upton Wyoming has been having such an unprecedented windfall of good fortune as of late……

  3. This a bad idea as the state Government has not ever shown themselves as better at bureaucracy than the Feds. Secondly the only way this process would “benefit” Wyoming would be if Wyoming lowered the standards and reduced citizen protection by doing this. This is another deregulation scam that Republicans advocate, despite the failures of the Texas power administration, and various enviromental disasters they permitted. This is a very bad idea.

  4. Letting the state regulate this material is a terrible idea. Wyoming’s Republican politicians have shown us they have no regard for caring for our environment and people who live here. Efficient is going to mean corner cutting and lack of accountability. And the legislature is going to fund this work? With what new sources of revenue? Or will Republicans keep making empty promises, creating unfunded mandates and abusive state government working situations where folks are just expected to do it all on a low salary and an understaffed office? This feels a lot like more lining of buddies pockets to the detriment of the people that live here, breathe our air, and drink our water.

  5. What a disaster this would be. The very idea of backward, greedy, Wyoming having any real say in this matter is simply frightening. My dog would do a better job of overseeing things. Sort of like letting cow farmers determine the cost of grazing their beasts on public lands (which is already far too low compared to rates on comparable private land). This country is sinking fast!

  6. I spent my high school years in this beautiful corner of Wyoming. The thought of an open pit mine in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest is disturbing. Plus transporting all that rock through Sundance 10-15 times a day, such as the company’s website suggests, has me wondering if the community is truly ready for the impact of all that big rig traffic. On top of that, there are the winter road conditions between Sundance and Upton – black ice, white outs, drifts, etc. – to contend with. Makes me wonder how viable this proposed Bear Lodge mining operation truly is.

    1. Exactly. Change the rules that protect us citizens to benefit one man. Gee, I wonder what incentives were provided to get this support. Can you spell bribery and corruption?

      1. So this company is from Vancouver, Canada. Amazing they have cameco resources out of Saskatchewan also that have Smith highland uranium.lets talk reclamation,which they have been unable to do at uranium facility,which goes clear back to Kerr Magee days.Gordon appoints Wyoming energy people .Barraso is in Washington in energy department does anyone get this picture.