Bring More Reality and Less Rhetoric to Biden’s Domestic Clean-Energy Mandate

As published in Real Clear Energy on 09/06/2022 By Mark Compton & Pete Stauber

The United States is in a mineral supply chain crisis. We need taconite, copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum-group elements, and many more for our national security, modern energy technology, and virtually every part of our modern world. While we have vast mineral wealth throughout our great country, we still are dangerously import-reliant, according to the Administration’s own U.S. Geological Survey, putting our economy, our national security, and our citizens at risk.

President Biden recently signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which among several other provisions, increases domestic sourcing requirements for energy mandates, particularly for electric vehicle manufacturers. He also invoked the Defense Production Act for the same purpose, but with little clarity on how it benefits American mining, while holding a webinar that outlines spending American taxpayer dollars to develop mines in Canada. However, we know the only path forward to achieving the President’s goals is to lead the way in fostering responsible, sustainable domestic mining to acquire the critical minerals needed for modern energy technology. The greatest hurdle for the President in carrying out his climate agenda, ironically, is his own opposition to domestic extraction.   

We consistently hear about the need for domestic mineral production, but at every turn we see regulatory roadblocks that at best slow, or at worst halt entirely, the rigorous process established in law for mining projects. These actions ignore the reality that all modern energy technologies are mining intensive.

A single wind turbine can contain 4.7 tons of copper. Nickel is fundamental in the production of batteries for EVs. Cobalt is used for rechargeable batteries. And platinum is required for catalytic converters, which decrease emissions from automobiles. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2040, demand for these energy-related minerals could grow up to 40 times. In fact, cobalt and nickel are both on the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2022 Critical Minerals list. 

Meanwhile, resource extraction and environmental protection are compatible. In northern Minnesota, for example, we work, live, play, and raise our families among existing and reclaimed mining operations. The United States has a comprehensive set of laws and regulations detailing the exhaustive process required for mines to operate. It takes years to fulfill those requirements – often too many years – before the private sector can put a shovel in the ground. But that detailed planning and execution can be cut short with the mere stroke of a regulator’s pen at the direction of the President, and that’s exactly what has been happening in northern Minnesota.

Over the last 12 years, Twin Metals Minnesota has invested $550 million for developing a project targeting the minerals needed to advance our nation’s renewable objectives. The proposed state-of-the-art underground copper-nickel mine would use the most advanced, sustainable technologies and precise methods of mineral extraction to secure the key ingredients needed for our modern economy. The effort culminated in 2019 with the company’s submission of a comprehensive mine plan and the start of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the highest possible level of scrutiny under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

However, instead of allowing the process to play out and evaluating the comprehensive environmental review, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, at the direction of President Biden, arbitrarily canceled the company’s leases, which have been held since 1966, and consequently blacklisted the project without review. In fact, President Biden and his cabinet are even going a step further and banning all mining on more than 225,000 acres in northern Minnesota.

And so now, instead of undergoing a rigorous environmental review with an eye towards development of a vital project that would mine the minerals we desperately need, Twin Metals filed a lawsuit to receive a fair shot at proceeding with the regulatory and permitting process.

This is not the only project with significant implications for our clean energy mandates that has faced such regulatory assault. The action to halt or slow down work on mineral projects impedes not only the development of those individual projects, but also reduces the overall investment attractiveness of the United States.

It defies logic for the nation to turn its back on the vast quantities of essential minerals that exist here at home. The United States has the strictest environmental and labor standards in the world, but bureaucratic roadblocks continually prevent us from responsibly utilizing our own resources. Subjectively canceling leases and refusing to allow the permitting process to play out may be the practice of good politics for some, but it’s bad policy for America. 

Policies that “offshore” minerals production to other countries promotes lower environmental and labor practices, and we empower countries such as China and Russia to control our supply chains for electric vehicles, solar panels, windmills, fighter jet targeting systems, medical devices, cell phones, and more.

The Biden administration formed an Interagency Working Group (IWG) to review our mining policies, with a report due in November. The IWG process and report will be very telling – we can either start reversing our current path of dangerous reliance on imported minerals, or consign the U.S. to an increasingly risky future that empowers our adversaries to strategically weaponize minerals against us.

America can and must lead the way in securing a safe, reliable global mineral supply chain. We have the workforce, technology, and know-how to achieve our energy and economic goals. However, our own government, which acknowledges our supply chain deficiencies, is often standing in the way with misguided policies. Thomas Edison, who knew something about transformational innovation, famously said that “vision without execution is hallucination.” Those who envision a future without mining more minerals and metals are disconnected from reality. We can execute our goals, but only if we let science and the law – not politics and bureaucracy – govern our behavior.

Mark Compton is the Executive Director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, an advocacy organization for the American mining industry, based in Spokane, Washington. 

Congressman Pete Stauber is a Duluth native, currently serving his second term in Congress as the Representative from Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District, and is the Ranking Member of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over domestic mining.