‘Green’ mining meets resistance from environmentalists

As the Democratic-controlled Senate lines up party-line votes to pass the Cut Inflation Act, which provides $369 billion in new federal spending for wind, solar and electric (EV) vehicles, environmentalists don’t know whether to applaud or cry.

If passed, the bill would be a victory for proponents of “renewable” energy and the elimination of fossil fuels. However, as is always the case with saving energy, investing in renewables would come at an environmental cost: a huge expansion of mining projects to extract raw materials from the earth for solar panels, wind turbines and electric batteries.

The Biden administration is itself torn on the issue, trying on the one hand to reduce America’s dependence on China and other foreign countries for essential raw materials for its Green New Deal. , while on the other hand blocking permits and approvals that allow US mining. companies to dig.

On March 31, the Biden administration took an important step toward enacting a federal industrial energy policy by invoking the Defense Production Act to steer U.S. companies toward producing more renewable energy. In justifying the use of what is normally an emergency act in wartime, President Joe Biden said in a official statement that “ensuring a robust, resilient, sustainable and environmentally friendly national industrial base to meet the demands of the clean energy economy” was “essential to our national security”.

Biden has set ambitious climate goals, including that the majority of cars made in the United States will be electric vehicles by 2030 and that electric vehicles will fully replace gas-powered cars by 2040, while shifting production from electricity from fossil fuels to wind, solar and hydro. -utilities. This goes hand in hand with the global climate goals adopted by the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the Great Reset Initiative launched by the World Economic Forum in 2020. However, the extraction of raw materials for this plan remains problematic.

“The United States depends on unreliable foreign sources for many strategic and critical materials necessary for the clean energy transition, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese for high-capacity batteries,” he said. Biden said. “The demand for these materials is expected to grow exponentially as the world transitions to a clean energy economy.”

A “huge increase” in mining

According to a report by the International Energy Agency, an energy analysis group, “the shift to a clean energy system is expected to result in a dramatic increase in the need for these minerals.”

The report notes that “a typical electric car requires six times more mineral inputs than a conventional car, and an onshore wind power plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired power plant.” It predicts that to meet current green energy targets, lithium demand will increase 40-fold by 2040; the demand for graphite, cobalt and nickel will increase 20 to 25 times; the demand for rare earth elements will increase 3-7 times; and the demand for copper will double. A World Bank report onMinerals for Climate Action” indicates that 17 minerals are essential to achieve ecological objectives, including aluminum, copper, silver, indium, selenium and tellurium for photovoltaic cells; steel, copper, aluminum, zinc, lead and neodymium for wind turbines; and graphite, lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and vanadium for batteries.

Most of these minerals are currently mined overseas and highly concentrated in just a few countries. Seventy percent of the world’s cobalt, for example, is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 60 percent of rare earth elements are mined in China. Refining is even more concentrated: 35% of nickel refining, 50-70% of lithium and cobalt refining and 90% of rare earths refining is done in China.

These mining operations have been criticized for altering natural environments, creating toxic pollution and violating human rights. A court case was brought in 2019 against Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dell and Tesla by Congolese families, alleging the companies were complicit in abuses by Chinese mining company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt and British mining company Glencore, which resulted in deaths and injuries among children working in cobalt mines. The lawsuit was filed in Washington, DC, by International Rights Advocates, a human rights organization, accusing US companies of “aiding and abetting” abuses in the mines.

One solution offered by the Biden administration is to bring mining operations to the United States, where stricter environmental and human rights standards apply. And many experts believe much of the demand for these minerals can be met domestically, but politics is the main constraint.

“The United States can supply a large percentage of its needs for electric vehicles or grid storage batteries,” Ian Lange, professor of economics at the Colorado School of Mines, told The Epoch Times. “We certainly have a number of lithium deposits in the United States, and our capital markets are good enough to move investment into things that we think will be profitable. But most of the lithium projects being discussed right now are stalled under NEPA. [the National Environmental Policy Act]allowing delays or other restrictions.

one december report by Reuters estimated that US mining projects currently under consideration could extract enough copper to build 6 million electric vehicles, enough lithium for 2 million electric vehicles and enough nickel for 60,000 electric vehicles. However, many deposits are located on federal land, which means they are subject to environmental laws, including NEPA, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and their environmental requirements. on public engagement.

“Traditions are destroyed”

Efforts by the Biden administration to expand mining and refining in the country are met with strong resistance from environmental groups and often conflict with policies of the administration itself. In May 2022, for example, the Biden administration blocked the Pebble Mine project, which sought to mine copper in Bristol Bay in Alaska. The project has faced opposition from Alaska Native communities on the grounds that it would harm salmon and other wildlife in Bristol Bay.

In an official statement, EPA Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller said, “Bristol Bay supports one of the most important salmon fisheries in the world. Two decades of scientific studies show us that mining the Pebble deposit would cause permanent damage to an ecosystem that sustains a renewable economic powerhouse and has sustained fishing cultures since time immemorial.

In response, John Shively, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership said that “this is clearly a giant step backwards for the Biden administration’s climate change goals. I find it ironic that the president is using the Defense Production Act to produce more renewable energy minerals such as copper, while other members of the administration are looking for political ways to shut down domestic mining projects like ours.

Native Americans, conservationists and ranchers have come together to fight what would be one of the world’s largest lithium mining projects in Nevada’s Thacker Pass. Native American Myron Smart declared that the land designated for mining was “sacred” and that “when our land is destroyed, our traditions are destroyed”.

Lithium Americas, which is working on the development of the Thacker Pass mine, declared that the project will be an open-pit mine with a life of 46 years, creating 1,000 construction jobs, producing approximately 3 million tonnes of lithium, with a stripping ratio of 1.6 to 1. The rate stripping measures the amount of waste extracted per unit of useful lithium extracted.

Lithium Americas said it received the required permits from the Bureau of Land Management in January 2021 and will begin mining operations in 2022. However, federal judges and state regulators are revision the case, along with several other mining projects in Minnesota and North Carolina, to determine whether permits should be revoked.

To alleviate these environmental concerns, the Biden administration has proposed taking mining overseas, to countries including Canada, Chile, Finland and Australia. In June 2021, the White House declared that “the United States cannot and does not need to extract and process all critical battery inputs at home. It can and should work with allies and partners to increase global production and ensure global supply. In this way, the extraction of essential minerals can be carried out by allied nations and environmental and social issues can be addressed outside of the United States.


Kevin Stocklin is a writer, film producer and former investment banker. He wrote and produced “We All Fall Down: The American Mortgage Crisis”, a 2008 documentary about the collapse of the American mortgage financing system.

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