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Soda Ash Challenges

Richard Kramer, a mine business analyst for FMC Alkali Chemicals in Green River, stands next to the shearer drum at FMC's longwall trona mine on June 30, 2009, grinding away the face of the trona rock, which is then processed into soda ash. The soda ash industry supplies a key ingredient of baking soda, glass and detergent.

Wyoming’s delegation is pressing the U.S. Trade Representative to stump for Wyoming’s trona ahead of trade negotiations with Japan.

In a letter to Robert Lighthizer on Monday, Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso urged the trade representative to prioritize eliminating Japan’s 3.3 percent tariff on U.S. natural soda ash, allowing Wyoming’s product to compete with the Chinese version.

“The United States has a unique deposit of trona, the key raw material used in the production of natural soda ash, in the Green River basin in Wyoming, which could supply the world’s requirements for soda ash for hundreds of years,” the delegation wrote.

The U.S. trona industry supports more than 20,000 jobs from Wyoming to California, the letter states.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Reps. Paul Cook, R-Calif., Randy Weber, R-Texas, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also signed the letter.

Soda ash is a chemical created from refined trona that goes into glass making and other products like baking soda. Wyoming’s trona mines in the Green River area account for about 90 percent of the country’s soda ash production.

But while exports of natural soda ash from the U.S. to Japan fell by about 2 percent, or 4,000 metric tons, between 2014 and 2017, the country’s imports of cheap synthetic soda ash from China have spiked by 75 percent, according to the congressmen’s letter.

“Eliminating the 3.3 percent duty would help U.S. soda ash exports to compete more fairly in Japan and prevent further market share erosion,” the letter states.

Wyoming’s Green River Basin is home to the largest trona source in the world with 40 billion tons of reserves that are economical to mine, according to the Wyoming State Geological Survey. Four trona companies mine in Wyoming in beds of trona that are between 800 and 2,200 feet underground.

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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