In March, we were relieved to hear that the Biden Administration was taking action to secure a domestic supply of lithium and other essential minerals for EV production. That relief was short-lived. Facing pushback from environmental activists and lawmakers alike, the Administration now intends to rely on imports to supply these critical new energy economy minerals.
The news will likely come as a blow to the U.S. domestic mining industry and is an about-face to what the President said he would do during the 2020 presidential campaign. The industry and mining unions had hoped that the Administration would live up to its campaign pledge by supporting domestically sourced rare earth minerals like lithium.
Aaron Butler of the Arizona Pipe Trades captured the labor unions’ disappointment with the President’s policy shift by stating, “let’s let Americans extract these minerals from the Earth…these are good paying jobs.”
Mckinsey Lyon of Perpetua Resources Corp. echoed that feeling by expressing the domestic mining industry’s concerns, adding, “We can no longer push the production of the products we want to places we cannot see, and to people we will never meet.”
However, it’s looking as though the Biden Administration plans to do just that. In April, the U.S. placed heavy investments in mineral projects in Brazil, Rwanda, and Canada. During a recent visit to the Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan, President Biden highlighted Australia’s large lithium reserves without mentioning U.S. supplies. Those are jobs and investments that could have stayed right here in the U.S. if only we were willing to mine our own essential minerals.
The good news? The Administration plans to cut reliance on China by obtaining minerals from ally countries such as Australia, Canada, and Brazil. However, these countries will still likely be reliant on China for processing.
There’s good news for existing U.S. mines, too. The Department of Energy has awarded grants to help old coal mines find ways to produce rare earth minerals. MP Materials Corp., which owns the country’s only rare earth minerals mine (though it relies on China for processing), has received funding as well.
While investments in existing mines and U.S. EV manufacturing are undoubtedly good news, it doesn’t mitigate the blow to U.S. mining industries. If the U.S. hopes to lead on EV production, we cannot wholly rely on other countries for extracting and processing these essential minerals. Failing to invest in the U.S. domestic mining industry is a mistake for both workers and the environment. Let’s hope the Biden Administration and other policymakers realize this before it’s too late.