Opinion: The importance of mines in the push for a green economy
Electric vehicles need batteries, and battery minerals come from mines. We can’t push sustainable energy without encouraging U.S. mining
America’s environmental agenda is dominated by concerns about climate change. Yet we continue to overlook the one basic industry that could make a decisive contribution in the transition to a green economy.
The importance of mining cannot be overemphasized. While the U.S. is home to some of the largest deposits of battery minerals and metals like lithium, nickel and rare earths, it takes an average of 10 years or more to complete the permitting process for a new mine.
Consequently, there is only one lithium mine in the U.S., one for nickel, one for cobalt, one for rare earths. Those who look overseas for such vital raw materials ignore the fact that two-thirds of the minerals and metals the U.S. imports come from adversaries like China and Russia. What’s more, the International Energy Agency expects demand for battery metals to grow 10-fold by 2040. While friendly countries supply some resources, they can’t be expected to provide the prodigious amounts of minerals and metals needed in the years ahead.
If ever there was a time for an honest assessment of mining, it’s now. And what that assessment would conclude is that without a much greater increase in U.S. production of critically important battery metals we will be unable to increase output of EVs and wind and solar power to the point needed to reduce carbon emissions to the level the U.S. agreed to at the Paris conference on climate change.
The only way our nation will achieve that carbon mitigation goal and reduce emissions to safe levels is if changes are made in the mine permitting process so that mining companies have an incentive to invest in new mines. To get from here to there would require political leadership and a fair amount of willpower — two qualities that are in spectacularly short supply.
We could solve several problems at once if Congress approves legislation to streamline the permitting process. At a meeting with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., last year, President Joe Biden said he would urge Congress to adopt changes in the process that would facilitate construction of energy facilities such as natural gas pipelines as well as mines. But Biden seems to have dropped the matter and Congress has taken no action.
Politicians of all stripes need to recognize that a glaring credibility gap separates all the well-meaning talk about combating climate change and any plan to do it without a secure supply of the raw materials needed for batteries to drive EV production and wind and solar power.
The road to solving the climate problem begins in Washington. If the era of environmental responsibility has indeed arrived in national politics, let improvement of the mine permitting process be its first positive outcome.