The Trump administration is tapping an Energy Department clean-energy loan program it tried to kill to help uranium producers, as well as miners of other minerals deemed critical by the administration.
The Energy Department announced Tuesday that it will issue guidance giving preference to projects involving critical minerals within an existing loan program housed within the agency that provides both direct loans as well as loan guarantees.
Other minerals that have been deemed “critical to US national security and the economy” include lithium, chromium, cobalt, helium, vanadium, according to a list maintained by the Interior Department.
“Reliable access to domestically-produced critical minerals is of crucial national security importance,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “These critical minerals make up essential products for our military, energy technologies, national infrastructure, transportation, and economy.”
The effort follows an executive order signed by President Donald Trump aimed at expanding domestic production of minerals that the administration says is necessary effort to reduce dependence on China. According to the Energy Department, the US has no domestic production for 14 of the 35 critical minerals and is completely dependent on imports to supply its demand. For 31 of the 35 critical minerals, the US imports more than half of its annual consumption directly from China, the Energy Department said.
The Energy Department loan program the administration is seeking to tap was created to help fund clean energy technology programs and electric vehicles, but has repeatedly been sought for elimination in the president’s budget requests.
The loan program is best known for backing a half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to failed solar-panel maker Solyndra, but it’s also issued a $465-million loan to automaker Tesla and backed some of the first large-scale US solar photovoltaic farms, among other clean technologies. Other than a $3.7-billion loan guarantee for two nuclear reactors being built by Southern Co. in Georgia, the program has gone unused by the Trump administration.
By emphasising critical minerals projects, the Energy Department said in a statement, the loan programs office “can directly facilitate the financing of such projects, many of which might never come to fruition without federal loan guarantee support.”