‹ Back to Columns

DoD Awards $13 Million in Rare Earths Funding to U.S. Projects

Stephanie Salmon

The U.S. Department of Defense awarded three rare earth-related grants worth roughly $13 million to help boost domestic production of the specialized minerals used to make weapons, electronics and a range of other goods. The contracts were awarded to companies operating in California, Texas and Nebraska.  

The metals, known as rare earths, are used in products as diverse as smartphones, solar panels, electric vehicles, and wind turbines, as well as military and aerospace hardware. Many metalcasters supply key castings that require these rare earth minerals. Concern about ensuring access to these minerals has grown more intense since the trade dispute between the U.S. and China has escalated. With China supplying about 80% of rare earths to the U.S. as of 2018, the Trump administration has set a goal of moving the entire supply chain of rare earth metals to America. 

Congressional lawmakers have discussed restoring the U.S. supply chain of critical materials and rare earths, but it is moving very slowly. A Senate bill proposed to provide funding to both rare earth production projects and massive tax breaks for companies using U.S.-made magnets. Recently, the Senate Republicans’ pending COVID-19 relief package, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, included provisions to fund research and development for rare earth element extraction. 

Expect to see continued interest on rare earth minerals during the new 117th Congress.     

SBA Announces Simpler PPP Forgiveness for Loans of $50,000 or Less

The U.S. Small Business Administration, in consultation with the Treasury Department, released a simpler loan forgiveness application for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $50,000 or less. This action streamlines the PPP forgiveness process to provide financial and administrative relief to small businesses. The PPP has provided 5.2 million loans worth $525 billion to American small businesses during the pandemic. SBA began approving PPP forgiveness applications and remitting forgiveness payments to PPP lenders for PPP borrowers in October. Interested metalcasters can apply on the SBA government website.  AFS continues to advocate and work with a business coalition in support of the passage of bipartisan legislation, the Paycheck Protection Program Small Business Forgiveness Act, to further simplify the forgiveness process before the end of the year.   
OSHA Issues Over $3 Million in 

Penalties Relating to COVID-19

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced in November it had received over 10,000 complaints and issued over 200 citations since the start of COVID-19, resulting in proposed penalties totaling $2,856,533. Healthcare facilities overwhelmingly hold the most COVID-19 related workplace safety complaints among all industries, followed by meat/poultry processing plants, restaurants, and retail. The manufacturing sector has not been a key target.

The agency also issued new guidance to help employers understand which standards it most often cites relating to the pandemic. The six-page guidance document and accompanying one-pager highlight the key issues which have resulted in non-compliance by failing to:  

  • Properly fit-test workers using tight-fitting respirators.
  • Provide a medical evaluation before a worker is fit-tested or uses a respirator.
  • Assess the workplace to determine if COVID-19 hazards require using respirators or other personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Establish, implement and update a written respiratory protection program with required worksite-specific procedures.
  • Provide appropriate (including correct type and size) respirator or PPE when necessary.
  • Train workers on safe respirator/PPE use and retrain as needed in case of workplace changes.
  • Store respirators and other PPE properly to prevent damage or contamination.
  • Record and/or report (as appropriate) work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses.   

For additional information, contact Stephanie Salmon, AFS Washington Office, 202-842-4864, ssalmon@afsinc.org.