White House wants new critical mining, laws
Supply chain plan includes US, allies mining, regs overhaul Metal Tech News – June 9, 2021
Last updated 6/20/2021 at 8:08am
The Biden administration sees domestic mining as an important segment at the front end of the critical supply chains it endeavors to strengthen, as long as the mining is carried out at the highest environmental, labor, and sustainability standards.
The "Executive order on America's Supply Chains" signed by President Joe Biden in February tasked federal agencies to carry out a 100-day assessment of the vulnerabilities to United States supply chains and to find solutions to strengthen the resilience of these raw materials to finished product networks.
"Resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains are going to help revitalize our domestic manufacturing capacity and create good-paying jobs," the president said at the time.
Based on the feedback from American supply chains assessment, the Biden administration is investing in both domestic and international critical mineral projects.
Already a key input into almost every supply chain, minerals are becoming even more critical due to the massive quantities being demanded by the electric vehicle and renewable energy supply chains.
"With the global lithium battery market expected to grow by a factor of five to ten by 2030, it is imperative that the United States invests immediately in scaling up a secure, diversified supply chain for high-capacity batteries here at home," the White House penned in a June 8 statement on battery supply chains. "That means seizing a critical opportunity to increase domestic battery manufacturing while investing to scale the full lithium battery supply chain, including the sustainable sourcing and processing of the critical minerals used in battery production all the way through to end-of-life battery collection and recycling."
To seize this opportunity, the Biden administration plans to invest heavily in both domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals.
New U.S. mining, laws
On the domestic front, a working group of federal agencies led by the U.S. Department of Interior and supported by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been instructed to identify sites where critical minerals can be responsibly produced and processed in the U.S. This federal interagency group is also expected to include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency.
"This working group will collaborate with the private sector, states, Tribal Nations, and stakeholders – including representatives of labor, impacted communities, and environmental justice leaders – to expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States," penned in a statement outlining plans to strengthen supply chains.
The administration, however, wants to ensure that any such critical mineral projects are developed at the highest standards for environmental protections.
To identify gaps in mining-related statutes and regulations that may need to be updated by Congress, the White House is assembling a second federal interagency team composed of staff from DOI, USDA, EPA, and others with expertise in mine permitting and environmental law.
The administration wants to establish a new mining regulatory framework with strong environmental standards throughout the entire mine life, from development to reclamation, and meaningful community engagement and Tribal Nation consultation.
"We recommend Congress develop legislation to replace outdated mining laws including the General Mining Law (GML) of 1872 governing locatable minerals (including nickel) on federal lands, the Materials Disposal Act of 1947 to dispose of minerals found on federal lands, and the Mineral Land Leasing Act of 1920 among others," the Biden administration wrote. "These should be updated to have stronger environmental standards, up-to-date fiscal reforms, better enforcement, inspection and bonding requirements, and clear reclamation planning requirements."
While this equates to a massive overhaul of U.S. mining law, the administration has also indicated a desire to streamline America's notoriously long and complicated mine permitting process.
As such, the White House is directing the federal mining regulation working group to fully explore "opportunities to reduce time, cost, and risk of permitting without compromising strong environmental and consultation benchmarks."
Critical mineral investments
The administration also plans to invest billions of dollars into domestic and international production of critical minerals, especially rare earths, and battery metals vital to renewable energy and national defense.
This includes $3 billion the Department of Energy has available for projects that mine, extract, process, recover, or recycle materials critical to renewable and efficient energy. Being administered under the DOE Title 17 Renewable Energy and Efficiency Energy Projects, these loan guarantees are reserved for projects in the U.S. that use a new or significantly improved technology; avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gases; and have a reasonable prospect of repayment.
On the national security side, the Department of Defense is being authorized to continue deploying Defense Production Act Title 3 incentives – including grants, loans, loan guarantees, and offtake agreements – to support sustainably-produced strategic and critical materials.
In 2019, former President Donald Trump used presidential powers under this act to authorize the Pentagon to pursue the reestablishment of a U.S. rare earths mines-to-magnets rare earths supply chain.
Under the Trump administration, the Pentagon focused largely on the separation and processing of rare earths, a difficult and key segment of the rare earths supply chain.
The Biden administration is expected to continue these efforts and has tasked the Pentagon with scaling proven research and development concepts and emerging technologies from other programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research, a Small Business Administration program that awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses.
Small Business Innovation Research awardees include companies developing technologies to recover rare earths and critical minerals from novel sources, such as mine tailings and the ash left behind from coal-fired electricity.
In addition, the Pentagon said it will work with the United States Geological Survey and other federal agencies on strategic and critical mineral projects.
"Though there is more work to be done, the Department of Defense remains committed to a whole-of-government approach to preserve our access to strategic and critical materials," said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III. "This is important not only for our national defense, but to ensure our national economic well-being."
In addition to encouraging critical mineral production on U.S. soil, the administration is expanding investments into secure sources of these materials abroad.
The increased international investment will be carried out through the U.S. International Development Finance Corp., which has been instructed to support foreign projects with the ability to responsibly produce minerals and other products deemed critical to U.S. supply chains.
DFC, which partners with the private sector to finance solutions to the most critical challenges facing the developing world, invested US$25 million toward development of a mine in Brazil that will produce the nickel and cobalt needed for the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles.
With a strategy that combines the power of American enterprise and allies, the Biden administration hopes to leverage the unique opportunity offered by the renewable energy transition to shore up U.S. supply chains and bolster the economy.
"Through strong collaboration across the federal government, with U.S. industrial stakeholders, the research community, and international allies, the U.S. must develop a durable strategy that invests and scales our potential industrial strengths to meet this challenge," the White House wrote. "Success will secure the nation's economic competitiveness, spur domestic manufacturing jobs for American workers, and position America to lead an emerging market developing products that will be crucial to our national security and clean energy future."