Will the U.S. Mine for Rare Earth and Exotic Minerals? – OpEd
May 14, 2021
A conservative cost put the clean energy transition at $1.7 trillion needed for mining of copper, cobalt, lithium and other rare earth and exotic metals and minerals. This transition will supposedly fuel electric vehicles (EVs) being cheaper than gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2027, and electric SUVs cheaper by 2026, according to BloombergNEF. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a new report found renewable installations for energy to electricity “soared to 280 GW globally in 2020, up 45% from 2019,” with “renewables (solar and wind) accounting for 90% of global electric capacity installations in 2021 and 2022.”
These are major reasons why the Biden administration is set to approve the first large-scale offshore wind farm, “an 800-megawatt project off the coast of Massachusetts.” Unknown to the U.S. President this wind farm installation will lead to wrecking a beautiful coastline over enormous land and ocean/sea requirements for renewables, and increased emissions since renewables have to be backstopped by fossil fuels or zero-carbon nuclear when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
President Biden wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% before 2030 without giving a detailed plan on a transition from fossil fuels and nuclear that will be incomprehensibly expensive and technologically impossible. Furthermore, renewables used for baseload electricity needs have led to grid blackouts in Texas, California, Germany, and Australia.
Obviously, tens of millions of tons of mining for rare earth and exotic minerals are required for this low-to-zero carbon future. For now, renewables, EVs, and utility-scale storage overwhelmingly rely on China for rare earth/exotic minerals needed for solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage systems to work as advertised. The U.S. Geologic Survey has highlighted 35 key rare earth elements used in “clean” energy technologies, but imports account for 14 out of 17 of the most basic ones.
Low-carbon futures, clean energy transitions, decarbonizing electrical grids, or a Green New Deal will only succeed with “major increases in U.S. mining and processing – unless (we) want to make America even more dependent on China and Russia.” A recent Wall Street Journal article exclaimed: “A Good Battery is the Best Defense Against a Military Assault.” These are national security mineral and metals for 21st century technologies. The case can be made rare earth metals and exotic minerals are the new realist balancing option between the U.S. versus China for global hegemony.
Currently, rare earth metals and minerals mined in the U.S. are treated in China “to pay the cheaper prices associated with processing under China’s abominable pollution, wage and workplace safety rules.” The U.S. can no longer ignore the geopolitical risks, environmental degradations, and Chinese hostility if it wants to build a decarbonized, green economy. The Biden administration has a mining conundrum to overcome. Eco-activists have largely succeeded in banning U.S. mining; over the U.S. having an abundant amount of metal and minerals necessary to support and build clean technologies.
The U.S. has only one operating rare-earth mine – Mountain Pass – which lost over two years of production due to a 2016 bankruptcy. Mountain Pass sends their mined ore to China for processing due to high environmental compliance costs – including regulatory minefields, and a byzantine quandary of local, state, and federal rules. Typical permits can take 2-3 decades to commence basic mining operations on mineral-laded federal and state lands.
During the final months of the Trump administration the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expanded mining operations on federal lands, allowed fast-track of mining permits, approved a new lithium mine in Nevada, and approved a land swap deal in Arizona for a copper mine. All actions took effect on January 15, 2021, and was applauded by Rich Nolan, president of the National Mining Association saying:
“American mining is key to successfully repairing our nation’s infrastructure, (and) the very technologies essential to our recovering economy will be built on a foundation provided by mining.”
These moves allow the Biden administration an opportunity to meet critical rare earth and exotic mineral demands. The downside is China can undercut any progress through its “unfair advantages from ‘unethical’ and ‘dirty’ mining and forced labor practices.” China has ravaged their environment health and enslaved Chinese citizens over mining for these clean energy minerals and metals. Will Democrat-aligned lawmakers and environmentalists’ allow these atrocities to continue?
Likely so, since Biden’s Vice President is adamantly opposed to new mining over climate change, his Interior Secretary opposes fast-track approvals for mining, and Green groups who support Biden along with Native American tribes all fight new mines in Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona.
The sobering reality is all solar panels, wind turbines, EVs, utility-scale and home energy storage systems “are far more mineral and metal intensive than conventional source such as fossil fuels.” Whether you like it or not: “renewable energy (all types) needs huge mineral supply.”
If mining doesn’t occur in the U.S., then China, Russia, the Congo, and other human right abusers’ flourish. The reason why, the climate charade that will be solved using renewables, EVs, and utility-scale storage. But the mining will take place somewhere. Unwise energy and mining policies continue when climates constantly change. When humans didn’t exist, it was warmer than today.
We are consistently told if we don’t do something now for climate change the world will end as we know it, however, the United Nations “expects the average person by 2100 to earn 450% of today’s income. Climate (change) will reduce that to 434%.” Made up end-of-the-world problems over the untruthful narrative the world is burning up when factually the U.S. isn’t transitioning to renewables for electricity anytime soon according to energy professor and author Vaclav Smil.
Foolish reasons to not mine and create billions in economic benefits and tens of thousands of jobs over politicized climate change. Three climate science experts Steven Koonin, Richard Lindzen and William Happer have convincingly shown the earth has heated approximately 1 degree Celsius this century. This isn’t a catastrophe, it’s time to mine appropriately in the U.S.