President Joe Biden is looking north for critical mineral supplies to meet government-inflated demand for clean-energy initiatives while the administration shuts down major mining projects on American soil.
In March, the president invoked the Defense Production Act to expedite the expansion of U.S. mining operations behind lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese as demand rises for the raw materials. Not only are the critical minerals central to the administration’s subsidized wind and solar farms, but they are essential for defense technologies and popular products from cell phones to laptops.
Biden triggered the Cold War-era law to reconfigure supply chains of critical minerals away from dependence on China, which dominates refining capacity and production of rare earth elements. The president invoking the Defense Production Act offers federal financial assistance to “domestic” projects securing American mineral supplies, and in June, the administration published a report identifying Canada as a “domestic source” under the Defense Production Act.
“Canada is a preferred partner of the United States with critical mineral resources and expertise that could be leveraged to expand processing capacity and the manufacturing of intermediate and final goods, further strengthening North American supply chains,” read the report.
Debra Struhsacker, a hardrock mining and environmental policy expert who has testified before Congress five times, called the effort to finance Canadian mines in lieu of American producers unnecessary.
“Absolutely we do not need to finance Canadian operations,” Struhsacker told The Federalist, when “we have abundant minerals in the U.S.”
Struhsacker highlighted Nevada’s mass deposits of lithium, in particular, for which a recent report from the International Energy Agency projected demand will skyrocket to meet governments’ electric vehicle ambitions. According to that organization, there is no viable substitute for lithium to manufacture electric car batteries, and as Struhsacker pointed out, Nevada’s lucrative reserves set up the state to be a “domestic powerhouse for lithium production.”
Struhsacker also pointed to Minnesota’s Twin Metals project as a “world-class deposit of both nickel and copper.”
Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents the district in northern Minnesota where the White House blocked the mine, blasted the administration’s plans to finance Canadian mining projects while hampering U.S. production as “insulting.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised since Biden has repeatedly indicated he prefers foreign labor mining for minerals instead of Americans, even though he claims to support American mining,” Stauber told The Federalist. “Now he wants to use American taxpayer money to build even more wealth abroad, not at home. … We need the political will to mine here, but yet again President Biden is caving to radical activists to continue to mine abroad instead of ensuring our mineral security and dominance.”
A report from the liberal Brookings Institution published earlier this month raised the alarm about America’s reliance on Chinese mineral supply chains, as tension between the two nations crescendos, jeopardizing national security.
The report, titled “China’s Role in Supplying Critical Minerals for the Global Energy Transition,” urged Western policymakers to accelerate reforms of regulatory mining regimes to meet rising demand as current supply chains remain vulnerable to Beijing’s influence.
“China is the dominant global player in refining strategic minerals,” the authors wrote. Chinese operations refine 68 percent of the world’s nickel, 40 percent of the world’s copper, 59 percent of lithium, and 73 percent of cobalt. “Most notably, China holds 78 percent of the world’s cell manufacturing capacity for [electric vehicle] batteries, which are then assembled into modules that are used to form a battery pack.”
Struhsacker stressed the need to expand U.S. mining operations and even coordinate with allied nations such as Canada to rid American supply chains of Chinese reliance. She added, however, that the administration doesn’t need to finance projects beyond American borders with U.S. tax dollars.
“I think we should keep our financial resources in the U.S. to help stimulate development of U.S. mineral deposits,” Struhsacker told The Federalist.
One state the administration has continued to overlook for mining development takes up a third of the country and boasts a 1,500-mile border directly across a strait from the nation White House officials now want to pay for critical minerals. Alaska, according to a March report from the University of Alaska Anchorage, “could produce 100 percent or more of current US production of cobalt, silver, and graphite, and over 90 percent of current zinc production.” The state also has the potential to “produce significant amounts of several minerals identified as ‘critical’ to domestic industrial supply chains by the United States Geological Survey.”
Rick Whitbeck, the Alaskan state director for the energy nonprofit Power the Future, described Alaska as a “gigantic vein of opportunity all the way up and down the state” where “we probably could sustain certain mineral needs for centuries.”
With more than 60 percent of Alaska under federal ownership, however, the state has become a primary target of the Biden administration’s initiative to lock down 30 percent of U.S. land and water from future development by 2030.
The Biden administration’s move to finance Canadian operations over U.S. suppliers runs parallel to the White House’s efforts to import more Canadian oil after gutting the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have accomplished exactly that.