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.
National View: “Made in America” Needs to Also Mean “Mined in America”
Duluth News Tribune
April 5, 2021
*Mark Compton is the Executive Director of the American Exploration and Mining Association
From where does milk come? Regrettably, for too many, the answer is, “From the grocery store, of course!” It seems the cow’s vital role in the supply chain is often overlooked.
As a society, we don’t give much thought to the origins of the products we depend on every day. We may notice if something is made in America or abroad, but even if it is manufactured here, from where did the raw materials — the minerals and metals — come?
Far too often, the answer is from a foreign country and usually one with a far lower environmental ethos than ours.
We have heard a lot over the years about the importance of energy independence, but it is equally important that we be minerals independent.
Minerals and metals are the building blocks for everything from infrastructure and health care to national defense, clean energy, and electric vehicles. This necessitates a reliable domestic supply chain.
Unfortunately, a lack of access to economically viable mineral deposits and an inefficient federal permitting system leave our nation vulnerable.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States is 100% reliant on imports for 17 mineral commodities and greater than 50% reliant on imports for another 29 — despite our nation having tremendous mineral wealth. Our mineral dependency is at a record high, and it comes with serious consequences. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the vulnerabilities that exist in critical U.S. supply chains, including our reliance on imported minerals.
Securing our supply chains is a bipartisan effort, evidenced by the attention our dangerous mineral import reliance has received from both the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations.
President Biden in February issued an executive order to secure America’s supply chains, directing agencies across the federal government to immediately evaluate supply-chain risks in four specific areas: semiconductor manufacturing, high-capacity batteries, critical minerals, and pharmaceuticals. It requires sector-specific reviews over the next year, specifically the defense, information communications technology, energy, transportation, public health, and food sectors. The order also directs continued work pursuant to President Trump’s executive order on “Addressing the Threat to the Domestic Supply Chain From Reliance on Critical Minerals From Foreign Adversaries and Supporting the Domestic Mining and Processing Industries.”
If we are going to “build back better,” as Biden vows, by addressing our crumbling infrastructure, revitalizing domestic manufacturing, tackling climate change by developing clean-energy infrastructure, and pushing greater production of electric vehicles, these supply-chain realities must be considered. Demand for metals used in electric vehicles is expected to sharply rise as automakers plan major expansions of electric-vehicle production. Thankfully, the aforementioned executive orders give our critical supply-chain issues, including minerals, the attention they deserve.
The challenge our domestic minerals industry faces is the acknowledgment that our mineral supply chain issues run counter to actions taken by the Biden administration and Congress to restrict access to mineral deposits. Executive orders pausing an already lengthy permitting process, the “30 by 30” initiative to preserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, and legislation banning mining on millions of acres of federal land will discourage exploration, development, and production of minerals in the U.S., increase our reliance on foreign countries, and make “build-back-better” priorities impossible to achieve.
Mineral deposits are unique geologic phenomena. In a 1999 report, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences recognized just how rare mineral deposits are: “Only a very small portion of Earth’s continental crust (less than 0.01%) contains economically viable mineral deposits. Thus, mines can only be located in those few places where economically viable deposits were formed and discovered.”
In order to secure our supply chains, we must have access to search for and responsibly develop viable mineral deposits and be able to permit projects in a timely manner. Keeping lands open to exploration and development improves the odds of finding the “needle in the haystack” mineral deposit. Unfortunately, already more than half of federal lands are off limits to mining, and the continuous efforts to further restrict access put American workers and the mining industry on the sideline when mineral demand is set to skyrocket to meet the Biden administration’s green-energy objectives.
Fortunately, this is not an either/or proposition. Mining and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. We can be pro-mining while also being pro-environment. Federal and state agencies’ current environmental-protection requirements for minerals provide effective and comprehensive protection that safeguards all aspects of the environment, including water resources, wildlife, special status species, air quality, cultural resources, soils, vegetation, and visual resources.
Furthermore, current federal and state financial-assurance programs guarantee mines will be reclaimed. The bottom line is that, in the U.S., we mine with the best environmental protections and the most robust worker safety standards in the world.
As President Biden noted in his recent executive order, “Resilient American supply chains will revitalize and rebuild domestic manufacturing capacity, maintain America’s competitive edge in research and development, and create well-paying jobs. They will also support small businesses, promote prosperity, advance the fight against climate change, and encourage economic growth in communities of color and economically distressed areas.”
Mined products are key to the advanced, technological, and more healthful existence we all enjoy. Like food and water, minerals are essential, and it’s more important than ever for the U.S. to responsibly utilize our own resources. Securing our domestic mineral supply chains is essential for our environment, our communities, and all Americans.
President Biden also issued a “Buy American” executive order “to support manufacturers, businesses, and workers to ensure that our future is made in all of America by all of America’s workers.”
So, let’s give proper credit to the cows that produce our milk. While we’re at it, let’s recognize the miner who makes our everyday life possible. After all, if it cannot be grown, it has to be mined. As supply-chain realities dictate, we can only make it here if we mine it here.
U.S. Mines Produced $82 Billion in Minerals Last Year [Infographic]
Niall McCarthy (Feb. 4, 2021)
The U.S. Geological Survey has announced that American mines produced approximately $82.3 billion worth of minerals last year, lower than the $83.7 billion unearthed in 2019. The figure comes from the 26th annual Mineral Commodity Summaries Report published by the USGS National Minerals Information Center and it was actually a decent performance given Covid-19’s impact on the global economy throughout 2020. In general, U.S. mines were not subject to stay-at-home orders because they were deemed critical industries but decreased demand from downstream industries still resulted in reduced production at some operations.
The report states that the estimated value of metals production grew 3% to $27.7 billion, primarily as a result of increased prices for precious metals. For example, gold reached a record-high price of $2,060 per troy ounce in August. The primary contributors to the total value of U.S. metal production last year were gold (38%), copper (27%), iron ore (15%), and zinc (6%). Industrial mineral production totaled about $54.6 billion, of which $27 billion was construction aggregates production such as sand, gravel and crushed stone. Despite the production figures, the report states that the U.S. still relies heavily on foreign sources for raw and processed minerals with imports making up for than half of U.S. consumption of 46 nonfuel mineral commodities.
Last year, every single U.S. state contributed to the total dollar value of America’s mineral mix with 12 mining more than $2 billion worth of commodities – Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, Minnesota, Florida, Alaska, Utah, Missouri, Michigan, Wyoming, and Georgia. Nevada is well known for mineral extraction and it is home to the world’s most lucrative gold mine which churns out approximately 116 tons of the precious metal every year. In 2020, Nevada had the highest value of mineral production in the U.S. at $9.14 billion. It was followed by Arizona and Texas with around $7 billion and $6 billion, respectively.
Editorial Counterpoint: Buy American? Block Minnesota Mining? Choose One.
Lisa Rudstrom (Feb. 3. 2021)
*Lisa Rudstrom teaches high school physics, chemistry and environmental science at Virginia High School in the newly formed Rock Ridge school district and serves on the board of directors for Better In Our Back Yard.
On Jan. 30, the Star Tribune Editorial Board applauded President Joe Biden’s “Buy American” push (“Biden gets serious on ‘Buy American’ “), welcoming his call for “domestic alternatives” and writing that “the need to protect American-made supplies was made abundantly clear at the outset of the pandemic.”
Twenty-four hours later, in “Renew the push to protect BWCA” (Jan. 31) the Editorial Board contradicted its support for domestic supply chains with a passionate call to turn our backs on a tremendous domestic resource of strategic minerals in northeast Minnesota.
This series of pronouncements was dizzying in its self-contradictions and huge intellectual leaps. As an Iron Ranger and a lifelong science teacher and educator perusing the articles on her lunch break, I struggled to follow the logic.
The proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine, located between the cities of Ely and Babbitt, targets a unique deposit that holds 95% of the country’s known domestic nickel reserves, 88% of the cobalt, 75% of the platinum group metals and 34% of copper reserves. These minerals — which can only be mined — are not only key for our national economic security and reducing our overreliance on foreign sources, but they’re also critical to our nation’s transition to a low-carbon future.
The supply chain starts here. We simply can’t power the new green economy without them. Iron mined from northeast Minnesota helped build our country and win wars. Copper and nickel can be the elements that propel our nation into the future.
Now let’s talk about the Editorial Board’s massive leap, trying to tie Biden’s 30 by 30 plan, which aims to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, to the Twin Metals project. First, the faulty assumption often made by this metro publication and its metro legislators is that if you’re pro-mining and pro-jobs, then you’re anti-environment.
Nothing could be further from the truth, or more insulting to those of us who have lived, worked and played in northern Minnesota for most of our lives. We are all environmentalists. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is a resource that all of us in my area truly cherish. And yes, we 100% support protecting it.
Here’s the kicker — there are long-established laws and regulatory processes already in place to ensure the BWCA remains untouched and pristine. Those same laws also include built-in state and federal buffer zones around the wilderness for an added measure of protection.
What does this mean? No mine can earn permits without proving that it will meet or exceed all environmental standards through a rigorous, yearslong regulatory review. The Twin Metals project will be evaluated through science and law-based regulatory processes led by multiple state and federal agencies tasked with evaluating environmental impact and standards, as well as social and economic impacts.
Please let me kindly debunk another misperception. The Twin Metals project is not located in the BWCA, despite the rhetoric from anti-mining groups implying otherwise, and sits well outside the state and federal buffer zones designed to protect the wilderness.
At least the Editorial Board for the Duluth News Tribune (“Resist rhetoric, follow process for mining proposals,”) is sensible enough to call out the political maneuverings that seek to seed mistrust in an already established government process: “The politics and overreach have only continued with bills introduced last year and this year in both St. Paul and Washington, D.C., seeking to ban copper-nickel mining outright” they write, adding that this is a “ ’desperate attempt by anti-mining groups to kill an industry.’ ”
This game of attempting to change the rules to prevent an unforeseen future from happening is unnecessary and sets a dangerous precedent for all highly regulated industries, not just mining.
Once we put the rhetoric and the politics aside, we can more clearly see that we’re really vying for the same things — a robust domestic supply chain of critical resources in support of Biden’s Made in America efforts, a transition to a low-carbon economy, sustainable communities, and continued protection for our state’s beloved natural resources. We can have all those things and mine too. Let the science prove it.
New Survey Reaffirms Strong Support for Copper-Nickel Mining in Minnesota
ST. PAUL, Minn. (May 1, 2018) – MiningMinnesota today released results from a statewide survey that reinforce public support in Minnesota for copper-nickel mining and strong support for allowing projects to be proposed and follow a rigorous environmental review process.
Statewide voters favor building new copper-nickel mines in Northeast Minnesota (44 percent), compared to 38 percent opposed. While in the 8th Congressional District, a majority of voters (57 percent) support copper-nickel mining, whereas only 28 percent oppose this type of mining.
After learning about the thousands of jobs and billions in economic investment from copper-nickel mining based on the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s estimates for the industry, a majority of Minnesotans (56 percent) support allowing mining companies to explore and develop copper-nickel mines, whereas only 38 percent opposed. In Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District the support was even stronger, with 63 percent expressing support, and only 31 percent opposed.
“Overall, consistent with previous statewide survey results, Minnesotans continue to favor developing copper-nickel mines in Minnesota,” said MiningMinnesota Executive Director Frank Ongaro. “It was also clear that Minnesotans see tremendous value in the economic potential of this industry and overwhelmingly support a project’s right to go through a rigorous environmental review process as a part of demonstrating they can meet environmental standards.”
The majority of voters across the state (64 percent) expressed trust that state and federal environmental agencies would ensure that mining is done safely and responsibly. In the 8th Congressional District, 69 percent stated this trust, with only 29 percent disagreeing.
Furthermore, when asked to choose from two opinions, more than two-thirds of voters (70 percent) believe potential copper-nickel mining proposals in Minnesota should be allowed to go through the rigorous state and federal environmental review process and granted permits if environmental protection standards are met. This compares to just 26 percent of voters who held the opinion that potential copper-nickel mining projects should be prohibited before being proposed. Support increases to 76 percent in the 8th Congressional District, and only 22 percent opposed.
The majority of voters (54 percent) also believe potential copper-nickel projects should continue to be allowed within the boundaries of the Superior National Forest, but outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, if those projects meet all state and federal environmental laws and regulations. Support increases in the 8th Congressional District with 62 percent, compared to 36 percent opposed.
Finally, statewide voters overwhelmingly agree (83 percent) that copper-nickel mining projects will create hundreds of well-paying jobs in the state, and they agree (73 percent) that new technologies will make the mining process safer and cleaner.
The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by MiningMinnesota. The telephone survey was completed April 3-5, 2018, among 500 registered voters statewide, with 200 cell phone respondents, and an oversample of 300 registered voters in the 8th Congressional District. The statewide poll has a margin of error of 4.38 percent.
Memo: Key Findings – Statewide Survey in Minnesota
MiningMinnesota is committed to sustainable and environmentally responsible mining of copper, nickel and precious metals. Driven by a diverse coalition of organizations, companies and individuals, MiningMinnesota works with local citizens, businesses and other organizations to bring growth and job creation to the state through responsible development of natural resources. MiningMinnesota seeks to provide the facts about copper, nickel and precious-metals mining in our state and offer a way for people to get involved and show support. Learn more at www.miningminnesota.com.
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