Bill Aimed At Sustaining Soda Production That Represents Main Industry In Trona

(April 28) The effort to sustain the historic San Bernardino County mining town of Trona was boosted last month by a bill introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Paul Cook.
Cook (R-Apple Valley) introduced HR 1992, the American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act, on April 23. HR 1992l would set the royalties collected on soda ash at a 2-percent rate for five years.
While the bill would help American soda ash producers generally remain competitive with China, it is of moment in Searles Valley, where Trona is located at the extreme northwest corner of San Bernardino County near the gateway to Death Valley and is host to a significant sodium carbonate mining operation.
Soda ash, or sodium carbonate, is used to manufacture glass and produce chemicals, detergents, paper, and other products.
In 2006, Congress passed the Soda Ash Royalty Reduction Act (SAARA), which temporarily reduced the royalties collected on soda ash by the federal government from six percent to two percent. This was done in response to Chinese manufacturing of artificial soda ash. China’s heavily subsidized manufacturing program has made it the largest producer of soda ash in the world. The royalty reduction was meant to keep U.S. producers competitive and to ensure that the domestic soda ash production capability is maintained. SAARA expired in 2011, returning the royalty rate to six percent. This was later reduced to four percent in 2013, where it stands today. In October 2015, without this bill, it is scheduled to return to six percent
The American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act would return the royalty to a two percent rate for five years, giving the mining industry time to continue growing into foreign markets, and, according to Cook, “protect hundreds of good-paying jobs.”
This bill has significant bipartisan support. Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), and  Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) joined Rep. Paul Cook as original cosponsors of the bill. The bill has support from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said the Mojave desert “is home to many pioneers of innovation that work on technologies that strengthen our national security and improve the way we go about our daily lives,” McCarthy said. “The research and development of these technologies often require critical minerals that are also mined in Trona. I am proud of Paul’s leadership to ensure our communities can continue to lead the world on this work. California has been blessed with abundant natural resources and Congress will continue to advance bills like Paul’s that promote job creation, support American business competitiveness in the global economy, and keep us at the epicenter of innovation and exploration.”
Cook said, “Aside from the economic benefit, promoting American soda ash is good for the environment. While American soda ash is found naturally, Chinese soda ash is produced synthetically. Chinese synthetic production uses twice the energy which results in over three times the carbon emissions as natural soda ash production.”
Cook continued, ““This is an important bill that will protect a vital industry, grow jobs, and do this with little impact to the federal budget. Sodium carbonate production is a $1.8 billion industry within the U.S., providing over 3,000 direct jobs. Soda ash is mined in my district and is exported through California ports. This bill will protect and expand mining jobs in my district, while strengthening our national security.”
Trona is an unincorporated community, with a population of around 2,000. Located on the western edge of Searles Lake, a dry lake bed, the town takes its name from the mineral trona, abundant in the lakebed. Beginning in the late 1800s mining industry set up around Searles Dry Lake to mine borax and Trona was officially established in 1913, as a self-contained company town, wholly operated by its resident mining company to house employees. Employees were once paid in company scrip instead of cash. The basic infrastructure and facilities in the town – roads, library, stores, a school, housing, and recreation facilities – were originally built by the mining company, The Trona Railway was built in 1913–14 to provide the town with a rail connection to the Southern Pacific (now the Union Pacific) line at Searles. The railway still operates today. During World War I, Trona was the only reliable American source of potash, an important element used in the production of gunpowder. Economic booms and busts have buffeted the town for over a century. Today, Searles Valley Minerals Inc.’s soda ash processing plant remains the largest firm in town. Other operations nearby include evaporative salt extraction from the dry lake bed’s surface, and a lime quarry.

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