Why is the potentially environmentally harmful production of heavy metals approved, but fossil fuel resource development stifled?
Legal Insurrection has regularly posted our concerns about the availability of rare earth minerals, which are critical to electronic devices we rely heavily on for our homes, businesses, and the defense of this country.
After the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, I noted that China was stepping in to exploit the region’s rare earth supply to pair with the near-monopoly the Chinese already have.
How serious is the development? Likely, more problematic than we realize.
As evidence, consider that Biden recently invoked a Cold War statute to support the development of heavy metal and rare earth resources for components used for electric vehicle batteries and other advanced technologies.
Mr. Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, a move that will give the government more avenues to provide support for the mining, processing and recycling of critical materials, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese. Those are used to make large-capacity batteries for electric cars and clean-energy storage systems. Yet except for a handful of mines and facilities, they are almost exclusively produced outside the United States.
“We need to end our long-term reliance on China and other countries for inputs that will power the future,” Mr. Biden said during remarks at the White House, where he also announced the release of one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Defense Production Act is a Cold War-era statute that gives the president access to funding and other enhanced powers to shore up the American industrial base and ensure the private sector has the necessary resources to defend national security and face emergencies.
In a determination issued Thursday, the president said that the United States depended on “unreliable foreign sources” for many materials necessary for transitioning to the use of clean energy, and that demand for such materials was projected to increase exponentially.
As a reminder, Former President Donald Trump used the Defense Production Act to fund more at-home production of rare earth elements for use in defense. Biden has allowed the monies to continue, but his order directs the use of these resources for electric-vehicle production.
The miners are happy.
Ben Steinberg, a spokesperson for the Battery Materials & Technology Coalition, said the program invoked by the president last week was “probably the most powerful tool” available to a sitting president to unilaterally support a manufacturing industry. The BMTC is an informal industry group that includes U.S. graphite, lithium and nickel companies, including Piedmont Lithium Inc. and Standard Lithium Ltd.
“There are very few places in the federal government that work on scaling industries and working with critical manufacturing industries in the United States. The Defense industrial policy office is that central node,” Steinberg said. “At face value, [the order] delivers a very strong message.”
The National Mining Association, an industry trade group representing large miners with U.S. operations, believes the order offers a broad range of authorities to support domestic mining.
“Looking at the language included in the order, the Department of Defense now has the authority to employ a full range of strategies that will better secure domestic supplies and we are already in discussions with them on the best way to do so, with conversations occurring as soon as today,” NMA spokesperson Ashley Burke told E&E News in an email this morning.
Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, stated in tweets reacting to Biden’s order on Thursday the order “will likely oil the wheels of domestic mining and refining” by “funding easy wins” and “low hanging fruit,” like collecting critical minerals as byproducts from existing mine operations.
It’s fascinating that the green justice activists’ complaints are lightly covered in the news reports and placed toward the articles’ bottom. Given the health hazards associated with several of these elements (e.g., nickel compounds are carcinogenic), I am astonished by the new priorities.
Yet, the move may not lead to the necessary materials for production. There are still environmental regulations and bureaucratic hoops to jump.
Nadia Schadlow, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think tank, who served as a deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, called it a “paper response” and said quick results could depend on loosening environmental regulations, which is not something the Biden administration has signaled its willingness to do.
“There’s not going to be a change with community views toward mines or environmental views on mines,” Schadlow said. “While the expression of will might be a good thing, meaningful change is going to require addressing the issues that have blocked mining production over the years.”
Furthermore, the move gives the Republicans a vital issue as we advance into the November election. Why is the potentially environmentally harmful production of heavy metals approved, but fossil fuel resource development stifled? After all, most regular Americans still drive gasoline-powered cars, the trucking industry depends upon diesel, and petroleum is still essential to national security.
And, the last time I checked, carbon dioxide was a life-essential gas and not a carcinogen.
Still, I am all on for sensible resource development. I want all energy options to be given equal opportunities for free-market growth.DONATE
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