Dems’ Climate Religion Needs A Rare Earth Mining Reality Check

Congressional Democrats and the White House seem to be planning to engage in a rare and fleeting moment of deferred gratification this week.

John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro of the Washington Post report [bold, links added]:

But what if Americans are already paying attention? They may have noticed the Friday update from the Penn Wharton budget modelers:

The Act would have no meaningful effect on inflation in the near term but would reduce inflation by around 0.1 percentage points by the middle of the first decade.

These point estimates, however, are not statistically different from zero, indicating a low level of confidence that the legislation would have any measurable impact on inflation.

Democrats might want to go ahead and party now before they draw further attention to themselves. The Penn Wharton crew expects the act to make the U.S. economy slightly smaller over the next decade.

Like so many Washington budget plans, the Democrats’ new tax-and-spending frenzy promises little or nothing to reduce deficits in the early years but is officially projected to improve the federal fisc and boost the economy in the more distant future, by which time some of its most ardent champions will have retired and therefore won’t have to accept voter consequences.

If the act works as intended, there will also be an immediate flurry of carbon-dioxide emissions before the promised glorious future of carbon restraint.

Most of the climate provisions take effect immediately or within a year or two, and the principal goal is to drive the production and deployment of solar, wind, and battery power, all of which involve heavy use of fossil fuels.

The Journal’s Allysia Finley explains why much of this activity is bound to happen in a place that is already the world’s largest emitter of CO2 and is ruled by people who are not particularly concerned about greenhouse gases:

The U.S. has become the world’s top oil and natural-gas producer owing to its abundant natural resources, hydraulic shale fracturing and other technological advances. The Inflation Reduction Act, however, effectively concedes American energy supremacy to China by turbocharging the government’s green-energy transition with $370 billion in climate spending.

Renewable energy requires vast amounts of critical minerals such as cobalt, nickel, manganese, lithium and graphite. China controls a large share of the world’s supply of each and also maintains a chokehold on their refining. Its near-total global monopoly extends to the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, cells and components as well as solar cells.

Ms. Finley adds:

Democrats might reply that their bill’s tax credits would encourage electric vehicle and renewable manufacturers to “on-shore” supply chains. But subsidies that encourage mineral extraction in the U.S. won’t help if the Biden administration continues to block projects such as a lithium mine in Nevada and a massive nickel, cobalt and copper mine in Minnesota.

Even if some of the mining surges are permitted to occur in the U.S., it will still rely heavily on fossil fuels.

In theory, Democrats’ big bonfire will be offset by future CO2 reductions, but what if it isn’t? What if intermittent solar and wind power can never be counted on to reliably and efficiently replace the fuels we need today?

Even those inclined to believe in the more pessimistic climate forecasts, even those who think that upending economies now is more sensible than relying on future technologies to address potential challenges should consider the costs of expensive environmental beliefs.

James Meigs writes for City Journal:

Because of their low-energy density, wind and solar developments require enormous tracts of land, compared with other energy sources. New York’s now-shuttered Indian Point nuclear power plant sits on just 240 acres.

Replacing its power entirely with wind power would require more than 500 square miles of turbines. That’s a massive amount of land and habitat lost to energy production.

People upset about carbon footprints may not realize just how large the allegedly non-carbon footprints can be. And when inefficient alternative energy sources fail, people have to come back to the efficient sources that environmentalists have shunned. Mr. Meigs adds:

…when Indian Point shut down for good in April 2021, all the wind and solar facilities in New York State combined were producing less than a third of the power churned out by that single plant.

So, just as in other regions where nuclear plants have closed, grid operators turned to natural gas to fill the gap. Statewide grid-related CO2 emissions shot up by 15 percent.

The Inflation Reduction Act does include modest incentives for nuclear power, but nothing compared to the subsidies that will be showered on solar and wind.

There are other contemporary examples of expensive investments in low-intensity energy sources that resulted in forced retreats to the energy sources that work. Mr. Meigs notes:

Russia’s Ukraine invasion slashed Europe’s energy supplies and exposed the risks of relying too heavily on wind and solar power. Some experts warn of blackouts, gas shutoffs, and economic chaos.

Now European leaders are scrambling to get their hands on any type of fossil fuel they can. Germany is reopening coal mines and has asked the EU to roll back plans to limit investments in overseas fossil fuel projects.

Writing for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Iris Crawford makes the case that “even the dirtiest batteries emit less CO2 than using no battery at all” because over several years of use an electric car will result in reduced total carbon emissions compared to a gasoline-powered car.

Still, she notes the significant upfront need to burn fuel:

Producing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles is more material-intensive than producing traditional combustion engines, and the demand for battery materials is rising, explains Yang Shao-Horn, JR East Professor of Engineering in the MIT Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering. Currently, most lithium is extracted from hard rock mines or underground brine reservoirs, and much of the energy used to extract and process it comes from CO2-emitting fossil fuels. Particularly in hard rock mining, for every tonne of mined lithium, 15 tonnes of CO2 are emitted into the air…

Manufacturing also adds to these batteries’ eco-footprint, Shao-Horn says. To synthesize the materials needed for production, heat between 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius is needed—a temperature that can only cost-effectively be reached by burning fossil fuels, which again adds to CO2 emissions…

The vast majority of lithium-ion batteries—about 77% of the world’s supply—are manufactured in China, where coal is the primary energy source. (Coal emits roughly twice the amount of greenhouse gases as natural gas, another fossil fuel that can be used in high-heat manufacturing.)

If America ends up with the world’s most expensive collection of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, but still can’t rely on them to run our society, even ardent environmentalists may have to admit that the great fossil-fuel bonfire of 2023 wasn’t worth it.

h/t Steve B.

Read more at WSJ

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