President Joe Biden has invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act (DPA) to expedite new mining in the United States to secure a domestic supply of minerals needed for electric vehicle batteries.
Cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and nickel are specifically mentioned as priorities in Biden’s presidential memorandum ordering the U.S. Secretary of Defense to coordinate federal action to increase supplies.
‘Not Walking the Walk’
Biden’s DPA order is more about the appearance of action to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of rare elements and minerals than actual steps to do so, says H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.
“Once again President Biden is talking the talk but not walking the walk,” said Burnett. “It is certainly true America is dangerously dependent on foreign sources for critical minerals and rare earths that are vital to modern electronics, military weaponry, and battery-dependent so-called green energy supplies. However, Biden’s actions have fallen far short of ensuring any of these domestically available minerals and elements are produced.”
“All he’s done is sanction inventories and studies, talking the talk, but he’s made no DPA moves to ensure purchases of domestically produced minerals,” said Burnett. “Nor has he removed regulatory barriers to mining or streamlined the mining approval process—actions he could in fact have taken under the DPA—meaning he’s not walking the walk. Studies already exist, and based on past mining we know where many reserves are.”
‘Pie in the Sky’
Grants and investments under the DPA will not have an immediate impact, says Ann Bridges, author of Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.
“This fact has not in any way dissuaded the Biden administration from celebrating this announcement and his setting promised target dates for a massive adoption of electric vehicles, for example, as if they will be met,” said Bridges. “Note that Biden’s DPA announcement specifically targets the transportation sector and battery storage, not military readiness, for example, despite the Department of Defense (DOD) supposedly taking the lead as is correct under the law.”
“DOD is being hogtied by being forced to coordinate with both the Interior and Energy Departments,” said Bridges. “For those with a realistic understanding of the demands for the supply of raw materials to make that happen, the administration’s statements are pie-in-the-sky delusions that are most likely linked to politics, nothing more.”
‘Throwing Up Obstacles’
Many agencies within the administration are working at cross purposes, complicating the realization of a secure domestic critical mineral base, says Bridges.
“The Biden administration seems to lack a cohesive strategy to accomplish its aggressive goals, perfectly exemplified by this recent DPA,” said Bridges. “The executive order seems to support an urgency to ‘get things done,’ yet the supporting agencies and existing bureaucracies are throwing up obstacles at every step.
“Expedited permitting and certainty in regulatory rules is what will attract investment and energies from the private sector, yet the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council on Environmental Quality have just introduced policies imposing new liability for mining, not less,” said Bridges. “Biden’s agency heads seem more focused on reparations for past grievances [against] mining companies than to support modern mining to achieve his emergency ‘green’ promises.”
Lack of Refining Capacity
Biden’s DPA order falls far short of what is needed, even if it results in increased production of critical elements, says Burnett.
“Biden has taken no action to establish a domestic refining industry for these minerals even if we produce them, meaning even if they are mined here, the United States will end up shipping its raw minerals to China for refining,” said Burnett. “That would leave us in almost the same position we find ourselves in at present.”
Biden’s claim he wants to increase domestic production is belied by his new regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), says Burnett.
“It seems that Biden’s left hand is actually being thwarted by his right hand, since he is reversing the NEPA revisions made by the Trump administration to expedite critical infrastructure,” said Burnett. “Biden’s new NEPA rules will tie up any new mines in the permitting process or in court for decades to come.”
Calls for More
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) specifically requested the president use the DPA to expedite the approval of domestic critical minerals.
“I am pleased that President Biden has taken seriously our bipartisan call to strengthen our domestic critical minerals supply chain by invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production of five vital battery minerals,” said Manchin in a statement on March 31.
“These minerals are essential to the technologies we have come to depend on, and accelerating their production is vital to our energy and national security,” said Manchin. “Building out our domestic supply chain and reducing our reliance on Russia, China, and other adversarial nations is more important than ever before.”
Biden’s action was a good initial step, said Murkowski in a press release.
“My hope is that this decision marks the start of a much more serious emphasis on our nation’s mineral security, and that real projects, especially mines in states like Alaska, result from it,” said Murkowski. “It is also critical that the five minerals addressed under this decision are just the start, not the end, of federal efforts to rebuild our domestic supply chains.”
Kevin Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Arlington, Texas.