From Wall Street Journal

Brief background:

Discovered in the years after World War II and dubbed the Birthday vein, Mountain Pass’s rich deposits of rare earth made it the biggest supplier in the U.S.—and the world—just as demand for the minerals surged with new technologies, such as color TVs needing europium to display the color red. But, as with many other raw materials, China began tapping its own massive reserves in the 1980s and quickly became a formidable rival.

An overview of the rare-earth mining and processing facility in Mountain Pass, Calif.

The U.S. fell behind as environmental concerns grew. Rare-earth mining is messy, requiring massive amounts of water, which is left contaminated afterward. During the 1990s, the Mountain Pass mine, which shares the name of the town it is in, was consistently listed among California’s top 15 polluters.

By 2000, China had far surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest supplier, while Mountain Pass suspended operations after contaminated water spilled into the delicate California desert ecosystem.

The entire article is worth the read.

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