Biden Invokes Cold War Statute to Boost Critical Mineral Supply

The United States imported more than half its supply of at least 46 minerals in 2020, and all of its supply of 17 of them, according to the US Geological Survey. Many of the materials come from China, which leads the world in lithium ion battery manufacturing and has been known to shut off exports of certain products in times of political tensions, including rare earth minerals.

The Biden administration has warned that dependence on foreign materials poses a threat to America’s security, and promised to expand domestic supplies of semiconductors, batteries and pharmaceuticals, among other goods. While the United States does have some unexplored deposits of nickel, cobalt and other crucial minerals and metals, developing mines and processing sites can take many years. Two-thirds of the world’s entire production of cobalt is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Chinese companies owned or financed 15 of the 19 largest mines as of 2020.

But bipartisan support for expanding American mining and processing of battery components has grown in recent years. In a March 11 letter to Mr. Biden, senators including Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, and Joe Manchin III, a Democrat of West Virginia, proposed invoking the Defense Production Act to accelerate domestic production of the components of lithium-ion battery materials, particularly graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel and lithium.

Todd M. Malan, the head of climate strategy for Talon Metals, which is developing a nickel mine in Minnesota, said Washington had reached a bipartisan consensus around providing more support for the domestic mining of electric vehicle battery minerals “driven by concern about reliance on Russia and China for battery materials as well as the energy transition imperative.”

But some domestic developments may face opposition from environmentalists in Mr. Biden’s own party.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that mining companies were “making opportunistic pleas to advance a decades-old mining agenda that lets polluters off the hook and leaves Americans suffering the consequences. ”

“Fast-tracking mining under antiquated standards that put our public health, wilderness, and sacred sites at risk of permanent damage just isn’t the answer,” he added.

Dionne Searcey contributed reporting.

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