President Joe Biden issued a directive on Thursday that invokes the Defense Production Act — a move the administration hopes will kickstart domestic production and extraction of critical minerals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles and store electricity. long-term energy.
The directive adds critical minerals – things like lithium, nickel, graphite, cobalt and manganese – to the list of items covered by the Defense Production Act 1950, a law from the time of the Korean War that allows the president to use emergency authority to place large orders of a certain type of product or increase production capacity and supply.
The long-term goal, according to White House officials, is to move the country toward renewable energy and electric vehicles. The less dependent the country is on fossil fuels and gasoline-powered cars, the less prone consumers are to wild swings in oil prices amid geopolitical conflict.
But China has a massive grip on the global supply chain, owning mines in Africa and also processing much of the material. Biden’s move could signal a major shift in how the United States acquires and processes these minerals.
“This is a long-term change,” Nikos Tsafos, an energy security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN. “If you’re looking for relief at the pump or an immediate change in prices, that’s not the thing that does that. It’s about thinking about 2030. It’s about putting the United States in a position of force in the world not to be exposed to the type of risks that we are witnessing today with the high prices that arise from the geopolitical tension in a third of the world.
Tsafos also warned that without congressional legislation, “renewable energy will not grow at the rate it needs to.”
Adding the minerals to the Defense Production Act list would allow producers to obtain funding and assistance from the federal government. The Defense Department would implement that authority, according to the White House, and the Energy and Interior Departments would also be involved.
While the actions being considered are not loans or outright purchases of critical minerals, they could still fund critical mineral mining operations, feasibility studies, and productivity and safety upgrades.
“Some of these things are indeed mining,” Earthjustice senior legislative representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley told CNN. “Productivity is key to just getting more minerals out of the ground as quickly as possible. I don’t think it limits the types of activities in the mining space very much.
On Thursday, a senior administration official said the process would take place “in a way that truly respects and sets the highest standards in labor, environment, engagement with communities and tribal nations. “.
And while climate groups like Earthjustice are urging the Biden administration to weigh environmental impacts, consult with tribal nations and prioritize recycling critical minerals, mining companies are urging the administration to quickly approve the three major mining projects. extraction of critical minerals in the United States.
“Moving these three projects through the permitting process so they can begin production as soon as possible is critical to reviving the nation’s renewable energy supply chain,” James Calaway, chairman of the mining company, told CNN. of boron and lithium Ioneer. “To reduce emissions, we need to electrify vehicles. If you don’t have these materials, it can’t be done.
Critical minerals are key ingredients for powering electric vehicles and batteries that can store solar and wind electricity. And even though the mining of critical minerals in the United States is a fledgling industry, the United States sits on many untapped mineral reserves.
It is the process of extracting them that could prove politically difficult.
Several critical mining projects are underway in the United States, and three are in advanced stages of the permitting process – two in Nevada and one in North Carolina.
Rhyolite Ridge in Nevada could produce enough lithium to produce up to 400,000 electric vehicles per year. Thacker Pass in Nevada could produce enough lithium to power 1.5 million electric vehicles per year, and Piedmont in North Carolina, which could produce enough lithium to power 3 million electric vehicles per year.
Calaway, the chairman of Ioneer, said he wanted the current mining licensing and review process to be more “focused and efficient”.
“Right now, a lot of different agencies are having a say in the process,” Calaway told CNN. “There needs to be more coordination and all agencies need to stay on schedule so the industry has better predictability for its projects.”
Still, tribal and environmental groups are closely watching the administration’s next steps. They want to ensure that there is rigorous environmental review and consultation with tribal nations. Major critical mining operations, including the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, are close to tribal lands. Tribal nations oppose this project due to concerns about the disturbance of sacred burial grounds and its potential impacts on the environment.
Miller-McFeeley said Earthjustice is concerned that federal funds will be used to directly subsidize the mining industry.
“I think the goal of the White House is to help create more virgin materials and products here in the United States,” he said. “Earthjustice’s view is that these funds cannot be used to proceed under a business as usual scenario for the hard rock mining industry.”
Much of this will fall under the regulatory purview of the Biden administration, as congressional mining laws have not been updated since 1872.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrats’ crucial vote on their climate and economic bill, is a big proponent of using the Defense Production Act to boost production of critical minerals in the United States. Manchin and three Republican senators wrote to Biden earlier this month asking him to invoke the Defense Production Act to domestically produce and process critical minerals such as lithium and graphite.
“I love defense production – go ahead and do it,” Manchin told CNN yesterday when asked if he supported the president’s action.