HomeEnvironment & Climate NewsTesla Backs Minnesota Nickel Mine

Tesla Backs Minnesota Nickel Mine

Seeking to increase its access to nickel required for the company’s electric vehicles, Tesla, the world’s leading electric vehicle manufacturer, has committed to buy at least 165 million pounds of nickel concentrate from the Tamarack nickel project, if it can get through the approval process for its mine in Aitkin County, Minnesota.

Tamarack is a joint venture between Talon Metals Corp. and Australian mining giant Rio Tinto PLC.

Nickel is a key ingredient batteries for electric vehicles. Under the terms of the deal Tesla would claim more than half of the mine’s production of nickel. Mining.com estimates the deal with Tesla could be worth $1.5 billion, if the mine opens in time.

Environmental Roadblocks

Environmental groups have managed to successfully stall two nearby mining operations, the Twin Metals and PolyMet projects, through ongoing legal challenges.

The lawsuits claim the sulfide in ore produced by area mines could contaminate local waterways, including the popular recreational Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Despite President Joe Biden publicly calling for increased domestic critical mineral production, in 2021 the Biden administration imposed a 2-year moratorium on mineral leasing in the area to give the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management time to prepare an Environmental Assessment to evaluate the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Rainy River Watershed within the Superior National Forest upstream of the Boundary Waters.

‘Environmentally Compromised Countries’

The United States is dangerously reliant on foreign sources for raw materials, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of the critical metals, minerals, and rare-earth elements used in modern electronics, military equipment, and green energy technologies, says Ann Bridges, co-author of Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.

“Two co-products of nickel are cobalt and scandium, which we currently import from other environmentally compromised countries—Congo and China,” said Bridges. “All these minerals are used for national-security-related technology, and therefore it is important to develop our own supply chain from mines to end-product for cross-industry uses.”

Promotion of American industry and domestic job creation should also be important considerations when considering whether to approve this mine, says Isaac Orr, a policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment.

“To the extent possible, it’s always better to promote American industry when our businesses can compete with firms in other nations,” Orr said. “American nickel production will benefit our economy, and it will also be best for the environment.

“Minnesota has some of the largest undeveloped deposits of copper and nickel in the world,” said Orr. “American Experiment’s research has found that developing these deposits would create up to 14,800 jobs in the state, a state with some of the most stringent environmental protections in the world.”

Obstacles to Realization

While Tesla’s involvement bolsters the project’s backers and possibly its prospects for approval, ongoing objections from environmental groups still pose serious impediments to getting the mine into operation.

Teslas’s agreement with the mining project specifies that the mine must be in commercial production by 2026, or the contract is void.

Opposition tactics often result in expensive years-long delays which sap the will to undertake projects such as the Tesla-Tamarack mine in the United States, Bridges says.

“There is often still too little will to actually re-create a mining industry within America’s borders,” said Bridges. “It is simply easier and more time/cost effective to shrug and buy materials from other countries rather than developing a domestic supply chain”

Opponents of such projects don’t need to win long-term, according to Orr, but may simply employ costly delay tactics to choke out a project.

“The largest impediments will be well-funded anti-mining groups who will sue to stop the project in the hopes of ‘delaying it to death,’” said Orr. “It’s the same strategy environmentalists used to kill the Atlantic Coast pipeline.”

Environmental Hypocrisy

Ironically environmentalists promote electric vehicle mandates, while impeding the development of raw materials necessary to make them viable, says Bridges.

“The environmental movement is facing a dilemma of its own making,” said Bridges. “By not acknowledging America’s achievement of exceeding high environmental standards in air and water quality under present laws, it cannot progress beyond to their next push of electric vehicles.

“False narratives pushed by environmentalists have created an existential battle between competing interests of air and water—both vital for life—as well as property rights, indigenous heritage, and government dictates,” Bridges said. “Environmentalists too often point to century-old, abandoned mines as proof positive that the future will lead to identical results, despite the fact that modern technologies and legal requirements, have proven successful in land reclamation.”

Orr has observed these contradictions at play Minnesota.

“In Minnesota, we frequently see the same folks who advocate for statewide electric car mandates, are the same people who oppose mining the nickel needed for the cars in Minnesota,” Orr said. “It’s a classic case of liberal city-dwellers denying economic opportunities for people in rural Minnesota.

“Ironically, the same people who drink fair trade coffee, don’t care about fair trade nickel or cobalt,” Orr said.

Operation by 2026 Unlikely

PolyMet’s example does not bode well for Tamarack’s prospects for being operational by 2026, says Orr.

“I hope they can make it, but it will be difficult to meet the 2026 timeline,” said Orr. “The PolyMet mine has been in the environmental review and permitting process since 2004.

“Minnesota’s DNR finally granted PolyMet a mining permit in 2018, but it’s still tied up in the courts.”

Kevin Stone (kevin.s.stone@gmail.com) writes from Arlington, Texas

Kevin Stone
Kevin Stone
Kevin Stone writes from Dallas, Texas.

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