By Michael Stumo
May 9, 2023 - Americans are starting to see the results of the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Biden in 2021. Federal projects are now upgrading America’s transit systems and power grids, including a proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs) and charging stations. However, there’s a catch. All of these renewable technologies have spurred massive demand for key minerals and metals.
But right now, global supplies of these resources are dominated by America’s rivals.
The International Energy Agency estimates that demand for key minerals—such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel—will grow 4,000 percent by 2040. However, the U.S. is falling woefully behind in the race to gather enough supplies. In fact, America’s reliance on imported minerals just hit another record, with China the largest supplier of these crucial building blocks.
The Biden administration knows it has a problem on its hands. Jake Sullivan—the Biden administration’s top national security advisor—recently said, “Clean energy supply chains are at risk of being weaponized in the same way as oil in the 1970s or natural gas in Europe in 2022.”
Sullivan says America’s dependence on China-dominated supply chains is unacceptable. And China’s use of forced labor, threats against Taiwan, and hoarding of mineral supplies as geopolitical leverage should be reason enough to take action.
Remarkably, though, the Biden administration has yet to use the best lever to address the problem. The administration is having the State Department fund mining overseas—including in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s particularly unfortunate because mining in the Congo is rife with child workers exposed to toxic dust. And China’s own mining industry is notorious for its immense, open-air pools of chemical waste.
Such disturbing practices contrast with much safer—and heavily regulated—mining in the United States. This matters, since the U.S. possesses vast mineral supplies, including the resources needed for EV batteries.
Unfortunately, new mine approvals in the U.S. simply aren’t materializing. The Biden administration has blocked new mining projects and withdrawn hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands from potential mineral production. And so, the U.S. is now turning to the Congo for more supplies.
Instead of clamping down on domestic mining, the administration should be working feverishly to bring American mining into the marketplace. America’s manufacturers need secure, responsible mineral supply chains—and there’s little time to waste. Consider that new battery megafactories can be built and launched in two years. But it regularly takes a decade or more just to approve permits for a new American mine.
If the administration is serious about addressing the mineral challenge, it must embrace America’s domestic mineral potential—and make the streamlining of mine permits part of any Congressional deal on energy infrastructure.
Pushing back on China’s domination of global mineral chains—and gathering the supplies our country needs—requires a new approach to U.S. mining. Washington needs a bipartisan commitment to move faster on mine permit approvals—to make domestic U.S. mining the foundation of a Made-in-America resurgence.