A Bay Area House member’s bill to step up the nation’s exploration of critical elements – used in tech products, aircraft and renewable energy projects – failed this week after two conservative groups urged its defeat.
Rep. Eric Swalwell’s H.R. 1022, the Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act, needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but fell short Tuesday with a 260-143 vote.
“Under the threat of punishment from Heritage Action and Club for Growth, a majority of House Republicans voted against America’s manufacturing and national security interests,” Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in a news release.
“Thanks to their obstruction, American job-creators and the Department of Defense will continue to be at the mercy of China to acquire these critical elements that help power our homes and protect our troops,” he said. “Rather than support research and development that will help create jobs here at home, 142 House Republicans just voted to send good-paying American jobs overseas.”
The Club for Growth had issued an advisory earlier Tuesday urging lawmakers to oppose the bill, and noting it would be included in the club’s 2014 legislative scorecard.
“With very little debate and no ability to amend, this bill creates a whole new $125 million program within the Department of Energy to monitor and research ‘critical minerals’ that are often used in the manufacturing industry. Through this bill, government intervention in the private sector will only increase,” the club’s advisory said.
The advisory also noted an earlier version of the bill, along with a similar bill in 2010, had included giving the Energy Department authority to hand out loan guarantees for commercial projects that develop rare-earth technologies. “We can only assume that supporters of this bill will seek to implement these guarantees after this program has firmly found its place in the federal government after a few years.
“So rather than add another layer of bureaucracy and another layer of crony capitalism onto the federal government, we should be cutting wasteful programs and reducing government intervention in the private sector,” the club advised.
Swalwell’s office said the United States relies on other countries for more than 90 percent of many energy critical elements, and China is the world’s largest producer of rare earth elements – an important subset of ECEs.
Swalwell’s bill would have authorized in law and strengthened the Energy Department’s Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub, which was created last year and is making important advances in understanding how to extract, recycle, and produce substitutes for energy critical elements. The hub is a collaboration among national laboratories, universities, research institutes, and private companies.
The bill did not authorize any new spending and reflected a compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the House Science Committee. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, supported the bill, as did Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.
“This bill was the product of a year’s worth of cooperation between me and Republican leadership,” Swalwell said. “Unfortunately, this hard work was derailed by puppeteering from right-wing groups.”