Does Biden know that his own regulators are blocking mine projects?
by The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, April 3, 2022
The contradictions of White House energy policy keep piling up. In the latest example, President Biden on Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to subsidize the mining of certain minerals in the U.S. that his own Administration is using regulation to block. Weird, right?
As Mr. Biden notes, government climate policies are driving up demand for critical minerals. An electric car includes huge amounts of graphite (66.3 kg), copper (53.2), nickel (39.9), manganese (24.5), cobalt (13.3) and lithium (8.9). Conventional cars require far less—22.3 kg of copper and 11.2 of manganese. Solar and wind also require more of such minerals than do fossil-fuel plants.
Global production isn’t keeping pace with demand, and most mining is done in countries with low environmental and labor standards. Some of these countries aren’t friends of the U.S. and aim to leverage their resources for political advantage. China restricted exports of rare-earth minerals to Japan during a standoff over the Senkaku Islands in 2010.
Beijing has also encouraged investment in foreign mining projects as part of its Belt and Road initiative to lock up critical minerals. This has enabled China to dominate mineral processing and made the West dependent on Beijing for some green technologies.
Yet the green lobby in the U.S. wants to keep minerals in the ground, and Biden regulators are helping. Consider Ioneer Ltd.’s planned lithium mine in Nevada, which aims to supply 22,000 metric tons of lithium annually—enough for about 400,000 electric cars. The U.S. has only one operating lithium mine, which produces about 5,000 metric tons per year.
Green groups claim the mine threatens Tiehm’s buckwheat, a rare flowering plant, and accused Ioneer of destroying it. The Trump Interior Department concluded after an extensive analysis that the real wildflower culprit was hungry squirrels.
Then greens asked the Biden Administration to list the buckwheat as an endangered species. Biden regulators proposed a listing, and the lithium mine is now stuck in purgatory. “Protecting species like Tiehm’s buckwheat is the only way we can stop the extinction crisis,” the Center for Biological Diversity says. But isn’t green energy supposed to prevent species extinction?
An inconvenient truth for the left is that mining requires enormous amounts of water and land and generates many toxic byproducts. But the U.S. maintains stringent environmental standards for mining, and minerals that aren’t mined here will be extracted where there are little to no such standards.
That hasn’t stopped the Biden Administration from blocking a proposed copper mine in Minnesota and taking steps to slow another in Arizona. Regulators in February suspended a right-of-way for a road in Alaska, granted by the Trump Administration, that provided access to one of the world’s largest mineral deposits including zinc and copper.
That same day Mr. Biden flogged his support for critical mineral mining. “We can’t build a future that’s made in America if we ourselves are dependent on China for the materials that power the products of today and tomorrow,” the President said. Now he plans to use the Defense Production Act to “invest” in critical mineral production.
So first block private mining projects, then declare a crisis, and then subsidize companies for those and other projects. How about writing an executive order to eliminate his own Administration’s many obstacles to the mining he claims to want?