NEW YORK — The head of an advanced-materials manufacturer said he met with President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, on Monday to persuade him that the United States should nationalize the country’s only mine of rare earth minerals, which are used in military applications.
“The staff understood the urgency of the matter,” Michael Silver, chief executive officer of closely held American Elements Corp., said in a phone interview after his White House meeting, which he said was also attended by presidential deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
The rare-earth mining operations in Mountain Pass, Calif., the last remaining assets of bankrupt Molycorp Inc., were bought in June by a group that drew objections from rival bidders, who said the winner has ties to the Chinese government.
The mine should be converted to a national laboratory “dedicated to rebuilding America’s rare-earth mining industry so the world knows it is safe to build high-tech manufacturing plants in the US,” Silver said.
The production of rare-earth minerals — used in applications from hybrid electric cars to iPhones and military hardware such as night-vision goggles and guided weapons — is dominated by low-cost Chinese companies. Molycorp Minerals and its parent, Molycorp Inc., filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after prices for the minerals fell below the mine’s costs to produce them.
Silver said he was invited to brief the president on the issue on Tuesday. The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Silver said he’s proposing the US government apply the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and acquire Mountain Pass by eminent domain.
Any attempt to make the mine commercially viable would fail because no one can compete with China, which accounts for almost all the world’s rare-earth production, Silver said.
“The perception is the only place in the world you can go for reasonably priced rare earth materials for your product is in China,” he said. “You have to change that perception.”
Los Angeles-based American Elements manufactures metals and chemicals and has a catalog of more than 15,000 products, according to its website. Silver said his company did business with Molycorp before its Mountain Pass became idle. Silver was among the first Americans to set up a production and distribution supply chain from rare earth mines in Inner Mongolia and China to North America and Europe, according to documents on the company website.
The sale of Molycorp’s last remaining assets to one of two groups of creditors that had feuded over the facility was approved after complaints that the winning bidder, which is majority-owned by JHL Capital Group LLC and QVT Financial LP, had recruited an affiliate of Shenghe Resources Holding Co., which allegedly is tied to the Chinese government.
JHL Capital founder James Litinsky, who has been helping lead the effort to revive the mine, declined to comment.