Biden invokes Cold War status to increase supply of critical minerals

WASHINGTON — President Biden took steps Thursday to try to increase domestic production of critical minerals needed for advanced technologies like electric vehicles, in an effort to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign suppliers.

Mr Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, a measure that will give the government more means to support the mining, processing and recycling of critical minerals, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese. These rare materials are used to make high-capacity batteries for electric cars and clean energy storage systems. Yet, with the exception of a handful of mines and facilities, they are almost exclusively produced outside of the United States.

“We need to end our long-term dependence on China and other countries for inputs that will fuel the future,” Biden said during a White House address, where he also announced the release of one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The Defense Production Act is a Cold War-era law that gives the president access to increased funding and other powers to strengthen America’s industrial base and ensure the private sector has the resources it needs to defend security. national and deal with emergencies.

Instead of loans or outright purchases of materials, the move will allow the government to spend more funds on feasibility studies and upgrading or increasing production at the nation’s lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and other so-called rare-earth minerals, according to a person familiar with the matter, although it does not bypass, replace or speed up any permitting or environmental review process.

The administration will also consider other potential uses of the law in relation to the energy sector, according to a White House announcement Thursday.

The United States imported more than half of its supply of at least 46 minerals in 2020, and all of its supply of 17 of them, according to the US Geological Survey. Many of the materials come from China, which is the world’s leading manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries and is known to have halted exports of certain products during times of political tension, including rare earth minerals.

The Biden administration has warned that a reliance on foreign materials poses a threat to America’s security and has vowed to expand domestic supplies of semiconductors, batteries and pharmaceuticals, among other goods . Although the United States has unexplored deposits of nickel, cobalt and other critical minerals, developing mines and processing sites can take many years.

But bipartisan support for expanding U.S. battery component mining and processing has grown in recent years. In a March 11 letter to Mr. Biden, senators including Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia, proposed invoking the Defense Production Act to speed up production national lithium-ion battery materials components. , including graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel and lithium.

Todd M. Malan, head of climate strategy for Talon Metals, which is developing a nickel mine in Minnesota, said Washington had reached a bipartisan consensus on providing more support for domestic mineral mining. electric vehicle batteries” driven by concern over dependence on Russia and China for battery materials as well as the energy transition imperative.

But some domestic developments could face opposition from environmentalists in Mr Biden’s own party.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that mining companies “are making opportunistic pleas to advance a decades-old mining agenda that leaves polluters get away with it and let the Americans suffer the consequences. ”

“Accelerated mining to outdated standards that put our public health, wilderness and sacred sites at risk of permanent damage is simply not the solution,” he added.

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