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Opinion: Reliance on China for minerals is irresponsible for the U.S.

Why have we allowed China to establish dominance on crucial materials for clean energy and military production?

SHARE Opinion: Reliance on China for minerals is irresponsible for the U.S.
A home that has solar panels installed on the roof in Cottonwood Heights on July 12, 2023.

A home that has solar panels installed on the roof in Cottonwood Heights on July 12, 2023. The world relies on China for much of the mineral supply to create clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and even nuclear energy reactors.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

If you walk through any suburb, you’ll likely see solar panels on many rooftops. In fact, by the end of 2022, around 6% of households in the U.S. had solar panels installed, and that number is expected to grow. 

What you may not realize is the materials to produce those solar panels were likely imported from China or produced by Chinese companies. Currently, the world relies on China for up to 90% of the mineral supply to create clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines and even nuclear energy reactors.

We have allowed China to establish dominance on these crucial materials for clean energy and military production. Across the world, they are buying up foreign mines to strengthen their hold on this industry. In the last few months, China purchased the oldest mine in Zimbabwe and built a $300 million new mine to extract lithium from the country. 

Here is what we know: China is buying up natural resources all across the world and wants to control the clean energy sector. In America, we rely on China for 11 of the 29 “critical minerals” of the world. For America to lead in clean energy production, we need increased control over mineral supplies. 

The trajectory of this trend is getting even worse. Earlier this year, the Biden administration signed a memorandum of understanding with the Congo and Zambia for mining resources. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., is fighting back, and in a press release he stated, “It is past time that America be self-reliant for our mineral needs. Instead, the Biden administration chose the Congo and Zambia over places like Minnesota, Alaska, Arizona and Nevada to supply our minerals. This news is particularly concerning as the Democratic Republic of the Congo has over 40,000 documented cases of child slave labor in the mining sector while Communist China controls 15 of 19 mines.” 

Importing minerals from foreign countries can be advantageous because resource locations vary around the world. Our nation can benefit from free trade with our allies to get critical minerals. However, we must be cognizant of where we are getting these resources from and the reliance we are building. Our natural allies like Chile, Brazil and Australia, as well as many other nations, are rich in their mineral supply. We should increase our mineral imports from these allies while reducing our dependence on China both to ensure national security and to effectively deploy clean energy. 

At the same time, we need to look within our own borders and extract America’s minerals from states like Arizona, Minnesota, Alaska and many others. After all, the United States has some of the highest environmental standards in the world. If anyone is mining, it should be the United States. Yet, the Biden administration is continuing to cripple our mining industry and increase our reliance on foreign powers. Recently, his office shut down prospective mining projects in Arizona and Minnesota. Even when allowed, mines wait decades to be approved. Mining permit reforms are critically needed to break our reliance on China as quickly as possible. 

One of the most egregious harms regarding this issue is our reliance on a foreign hostile power for our military weapons. At a recent climate summit, Stauber said if China stopped exporting minerals to us, our F-35 fighter jets would halt production in Fort Worth, Texas. It is shameful to be reliant on China for military production when America has mining resources available. As an American, I find it disgraceful that our government has become so dependent on a foreign power for our defense and clean energy capabilities.

It’s imperative our national leaders take action on this issue and implement policy to reduce our reliance on China by increasing our domestic mining and importation of minerals from South American allies. 

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Ryan Graydon Smith is the chairman of the Utah Federation of College Republicans.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Graydon Smith is the chairman of the Utah Federation of College Republicans and a member of the American Conservation Coalition.