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Biden urged to support domestic mining

Senators, conservation group urge critical minerals action Metal Tech News – March 16, 2022

A group of bipartisan senators and a conservation organization are urging the White House to take definitive actions to bolster domestic production of the minerals critical to clean energy and national security.

In a March 11 letter to President Biden, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) pointed out that the "lack of home-grown production and processing of rare earth and critical minerals" leaves America's supply chains vulnerable.

According to a January report by the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. was dependent on imports for more than half its supply of 47 nonfuel mineral commodities and 100% import-reliant for 17 of those during 2021.

"The concentration of where that supply comes from makes our foreign dependence even more concerning," the senators penned in their letter. "China dominates the international critical mineral supply chain, presenting a dire national security threat for the United States, and harsh economic realities for American manufacturers."

ConservAmerica had a similar message for the President.

In a white paper published on March 14, the Washington D.C.-based conservation group called America's dependence on critical mineral imports "one of the nation's most persistent and pervasive national security and economic challenges."

While acknowledging that Biden and President Trump before him have taken initial steps to strengthen America's mineral supply chains, ConservAmerica says more needs to be done.

"We appreciate the administration's recognition that federal policy is key to solving America's deepening dependence on foreign countries, particularly China, for minerals essential to our economy," said ConservAmerica President Jeff Kupfer. "China will not, and has not been playing the slow game. We cannot afford to either."

While their approaches differ, both the senators and conservation group proposed policies and actions to address America's lackluster critical mineral supply chains.

Leveraging the Defense Production Act

The U.S. senators called upon President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act, or DPA, to accelerate domestic production of lithium-ion battery materials, in particular graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel, and lithium.

Established at the onset of the Korean War in 1950, DPA allows American presidents, largely through executive order, to direct private companies to prioritize orders from the federal government.

To bolster domestic production of materials critical to national security, the President may also offer loans or loan guarantees to companies, subject to an appropriation by Congress.

In 2019, President Trump used presidential powers under Title 3 of the DPA to authorize the Pentagon to pursue the reestablishment of a mines-to-magnets rare earths supply chain in the U.S.

The $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 passed by Congress shortly before Biden moved into the Oval Office expands upon the DPA authority.

This act directs the Pentagon to:

Secure sources of strategic minerals and metals by 2030 that will fully meet U.S. defense demands; eliminate the dependence on unsecure sources; and ensure that the U.S. military is not reliant upon unsecure sources for the processing or manufacturing of any strategic mineral and metal.

Provide incentives for robust processing and manufacturing capabilities to refine strategic minerals and metals needed by the Department of Defense within the U.S.

Maintain secure sources of supply of strategic minerals and metals required to maintain current military requirements in the event that international supply chains are disrupted.

Shortly after taking office, Biden issued Executive Order 14017, which instructed federal agencies to carry out a 100-day review to investigate what needs to happen to strengthen the resilience of America's supply chains.

The findings of this investigation recognized DPA as a "powerful tool" for bolstering American supply chains.

In their letter to Biden, the senators said it is time to use this tool to secure the minerals and metals critical to American consumers and national defense.

"The authorities provided to you as President under the Defense Production Act will help to ensure that America's critical mineral supply chains are strong, responsibly produced, and ethically sourced. Given the stakes, America cannot afford to wait any longer for that day to arrive," they wrote.

Clean American critical minerals

Pointing to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resultant supply chain disruptions, ConservAmerica also emphasized the urgency of developing safe, reliable, affordable, and clean energy supplies domestically.

In addition to geopolitical concerns related to the U.S. depending on countries such as China for the bulk of the minerals critical to clean energy and technology, the conservation group established in 1995 to strengthen the Republican Party's stance on environmental issues points out the social and environmental baggage that often accompanies critical minerals and metals imported from countries with lessor regard for human rights and the environment.

"Clean energy is not clean when its components are outsourced to countries that lack enforceable and verifiable environmental and labor standards," said Kupfer.

ConervAmerica's white paper proposes that the Biden administration should work on three fronts to address America's critical minerals supply challenge:

The government must develop policy that promotes critical minerals produced and processed under the highest environmental and safety standards. A successful clean energy transition depends on this process.

The government should fully fund minerals programs that have been authorized. Renewable-style tax credits for minerals and expedited permitting should also be considered.

The U.S. should accelerate its domestic mapping program, consider a new civilian stockpile for critical minerals, and continue building relationships with mineral-rich allies like Canada and Australia to diversify sources of supply.

ConservAmerica says the Biden administration's work to secure domestic supplies of minerals critical to clean energy and electric vehicles is being countered by efforts to undo policies that would streamline mine permitting, as well as circumventing previously permitted domestic mining projects.

So far this year, federal agencies have canceled leases on Twin Metals' proposed copper-nickel-cobalt-platinum group metals mine in Minnesota and revoked a previously issued right-of-way needed to build a road to a proposed copper-zinc-gold-silver mine in Alaska.

"Unfortunately, the federal government's policies are working at cross-purposes," Kupfer said. "By reversing policies intended to streamline our antiquated permitting system and by abruptly halting previously approved critical minerals projects, the administration is interjecting additional layers of uncertainty into a process that already stands as a major deterrent to development."

ConservAmerica says this poses major economic and national security vulnerabilities that need to be eliminated through the establishment of a strong, competitive domestic critical minerals production.

"With proper policy support and the use of market principles, American workers and industries will be able to develop clean energy technologies and strengthen supply chains – thereby putting America into a position of strength," the conservative conservation group penned in the conclusion of its report.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

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With more than 16 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.


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