US President Joe Biden on Tuesday touted progress in boosting domestic production of minerals used to make electric vehicles and other products, but stressed that new mines must benefit host communities and not damage the environment.
Washington has grown increasingly concerned that low US production of minerals essential for the construction of future technologies could leave it beholden to China and other nations that have heavily invested in mining.
That has sparked a range of attempts by Biden, as well as his predecessors, to boost US output of lithium, rare earths and other strategic minerals while balancing opposition from environmental and indigenous groups.
“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,” Biden said at a White House event.
Even still, the President emphasised he would not support new US mines unless “the historical injustices that too many mining operations have left behind” are avoided.
“Environmental protections are paramount,” said Biden. “We have to ensure these resources actually benefit folks in the communities where they live, not just shareholders.”
To address environmental concerns, the White House said it would form a committee to recommend changes to the 1872 Mining Law, which has governed hard rock mining across much of the US since the 19th century.
Dependence on China
The Pentagon has already awarded roughly $10 million to MP Materials, which controls the only US rare earths mine but depends on China for processing.
The Las Vegas-based company said it will invest $700 million of its own funds and create more than 350 jobs by 2024. The company has said it aims to begin processing rare earths in California by the end of the year.
Chief executive Jim Litinsky told Biden the investments will help the company produce enough rare earth products to build 500,000 EVs domestically by 2025.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables said at the event it will break ground this spring on a California facility to test sustainable ways to produce lithium from geothermal brines found underneath California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere.
Biden’s comments on Tuesday were the clearest to date about the thinking that the administration officials deploys when determining whether or not to support a proposed US mining project.
“It’s my hope and my expectation that those communities … get the benefit of being able to be employed and being able to generate a living from what’s going to be happening and are protected environmentally,” Biden said.
Last month, the US blocked a proposed Minnesota copper mine from by the UK’s Antofagasta. It has also taken steps to slow down development of a lithium mine in Nevada from Pioneer and a copper mine in Arizona from Australia’s Rio Tinto.
The White House has also touted an agreement between Canada’s Talon Metals and the United Steelworkers union to train workers in northern Minnesota near Talon’s Tamarack nickel project. Talon signed a nickel supply deal with Tesla last month.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard