There is a major contradiction in the Biden administration’s climate change campaign. While its infrastructure plan would provide $7.5 billion for recharging stations for electric cars, it is stopping or otherwise impeding the mining of the raw materials needed for batteries to power those electric cars.
A Nov. 16 edition of Energy and Environment Greenwire reported: “An official with automaker General Motors Co. today called for the U.S. government to speed up mine permitting in order to feed minerals to electric vehicle manufacturing plants at home.
One of those minerals is copper. A June 26 article in The Economist magazine predicted: “If the world is to meet its climate goals, demand for it could almost triple.”
However, the Biden administration has halted a major copper project in the Lower 48. Josh Siegel, reporting for the Washington Examiner on Oct. 20, wrote: “The Interior and Agriculture departments will consider a 20-year mineral leasing withdrawal of key portions of national forest lands, prohibiting the issuance of prospective permits and leases in the meantime, according to an advanced copy of the USDA press release shared to Congress and obtained by the Washington Examiner.”
There are two leases within the proposed withdrawal area associated with the Twin Metals project, which would mine copper, nickel and platinum group metals.
In this case, President Joe Biden is siding with environmentalists in a conflict that has roiled Democrats, who have historically opposed domestic mining projects but also want to boost production of critical minerals that are in high demand as inputs in clean-energy technologies, such as electric vehicle batteries and solar panels.
With its announced plan to reimpose the 2001 Roadless Rule, the Biden administration is also throwing up a major barrier to mining base metals in the Tongass National Forest — an area the size of West Virginia.
That mining should again be a mainstay of Southeast’s economy is supported by the Forest Service’s and federal agency’s own records which show that the Tongass contains billions of dollars of discovered and undiscovered minerals. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan pointed out that the U.S. Bureau of Mines had identified 148 locatable mineral deposits in the Tongass. Of these 52 were ranked as having the highest mineral potential. Seven were ranked as having the next highest potential and at least one “critical” and “strategic” mineral. (2008 FEIS at 3-356).
In addition to the 148 identified mineral deposits, the 2008 FEIS described an estimate of 930 “undiscovered mineral resource” tracts in the 1991 USGS Report. That report estimated a value for discovered minerals of $37.1 billion (expressed as 1988 dollars) and a value for undiscovered minerals of $28.3 billion (expressed as 1988 dollars). Today’s escalation of the 1991 and 2008 metals prices have dramatically increased these mineral values.
No mine can be developed on the Tongass unless it meets the strict environmental requirements of 36 C.F.R. Part 228, as analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, and also survives the inevitable litigation testing whether the analysis complied with NEPA.
The state of Alaska has urged the Forest Service to update these studies. Doing so should be required before the USDA proceeds with its plan to repeal the Tongass Exemption to the Roadless Rule. Otherwise, we won’t know what is being given up to prevent/make more difficult access to 9.34 million acres of the Tongass.
The unwillingness to produce the minerals needed for the green revolution in the United States has a global impact. For example, a CBS News investigation found that child labor is being used in the dangerous mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mineral cobalt is used in virtually all batteries in common devices, including cellphones, laptops and electric vehicles.
A report by Amnesty International revealed that cobalt mined by children was ending up in products from several companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Tesla and Samsung.
As a moral issue the Biden administration’s policy should be changed to produce the metals needed for renewable energy in the United States. It should start with leaving the Tongass exemption in place as we update prior studies to learn more definitively what minerals we have on the Tongass.
Frank Murkowski is a former governor and United States senator from Alaska.
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