Biden Kowtows To Big Green By Blocking Much-Needed U.S. Mining
It is past due time to ramp up domestic mining.
The move to electrify all sectors of the economy is increasing the demand for minerals, metals, and rare earth elements used in the production of batteries, motors, and other electrical equipment that are used in products such as electric vehicles (EV). [bold, links added]
Also, common metals like iron, nickel, and copper are needed to expand the U.S. transmission system in order to move electricity generated with wind and solar assets, which typically are in low-electricity demand areas to areas of high demand.
The current regulatory environment requires companies that mine these minerals and metals to go through state and federal permit gauntlets that can take up to a decade.
This regulatory process is ill-suited for the current domestic energy policy.
It is distressing that America is heavily dependent on unfriendly countries – China and Russia – for many of the critically important raw materials needed by U.S. manufacturers, including battery metals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel.
China is the world’s leading processor of battery metals and Chinese companies own some of the largest mines around the world.
Russia is a key supplier of nickel used in steel production to increase its tensile strength. Large quantities of steel will be needed to build the infrastructure to support a renewable transition.
This dependence on China and Russia is troubling. It poses a threat to our nation’s economic well-being and national security.
Energy policy in the U. S., Europe, and Asia is forcing a change from gasoline and diesel-powered cars and trucks to EVs. This change will substantially increase the demand for lightweight batteries like the ubiquitous lithium-ion batteries used to power everything from laptops to mobile phones.
In addition to batteries, the demand for electric motors using Neodymium magnets will skyrocket. Although it is difficult to quantify, it is reasonable to expect the price for these minerals and metals to significantly increase without a substantial increase in supply.
How will U.S. automakers obtain enough batteries and motors to keep EV assembly lines rolling? And hold down the price of each?
A recent study from the International Energy Agency reported that by 2040, mining countries will need to expand production of battery metals from 7 million tons per year to 42 million in order to meet mid-century carbon dioxide reduction goals.
Hundreds of new mines must open in order to meet this goal. Demand for lithium is projected to grow by as much as 40 times over 2020 levels. Lithium prices have soared more than 600% this year. That should come as no surprise.
Globally, production can’t keep pace with demand. And in the U.S., despite significant lithium resources, there’s only one producing lithium mine.
Nearly all of the lithium used in the U.S. is imported, as are other battery metals such as cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese.
The U. S. Congress must streamline mine permitting so that the process doesn’t take ten years or more in order to meet domestic and global greenhouse gas reduction goals.
There is no question that experience with the federal government’s labyrinthine regulatory process has discouraged investment in domestic mining.
But mining is not the problem; politics is. What’s delaying a solution is endless bickering over the permitting process. Right now, we are not doing enough, fast enough to establish the policies necessary to keep existing mines in operation and to build new facilities.
Many environmentalists insist that recycling old batteries can supply much of the needed minerals and metals; however, this is wishful thinking.
Recycling, as crucial as it is, requires something to recycle. You can’t recycle what hasn’t yet been mined. Meeting the soaring material needs of the energy transition will require new mining, including new mining in the U.S.
The global race is on to build the supply chains for minerals and metals and capture market share of the manufacturing for advanced technologies that will underpin the required carbon dioxide reduction.
If the United States is to be a renewable energy leader, we can’t just be mineral users—we must also be producers.
The tough, long-term task of developing clean energy technologies lies ahead and some level of consistent support in Congress for mining will be necessary. But the key opportunity now before us is to get self-imposed government barriers out of the way.
A streamlined mine-permitting process is an essential step in building reliable, responsible material supply chains the U.S. must have to achieve a clean energy future. And it could go a long way toward making the world a safer place.
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