President Biden could hardly be more aggressive in trying to foist electric vehicles (EVs) on the American public, regardless of whether they really meet our driving needs. At the same time, he is saying all the right things about reducing reliance on China for the minerals needed to make EV batteries. But when it comes to actually approving new domestic mines for these minerals, the answer from this administration has recently been no.
Take Ioneer’s proposed lithium mine in Nevada. The administration had announced a conditional $700 million dollar loan from the Department of Energy for the project, eliciting headlines that the president is serious about more domestic content in EVs. But on February 3, the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating 910 acres of the site as critical habitat for the endangered Tiehm’s buckwheat, which exists on about nine of them. If finalized, the designation could result in the project being scaled back or abandoned entirely. The original proposal was estimated to provide enough lithium for 370,000 EVs annually, but now that lithium may have to come from a country that doesn’t care so much about obscure plants.
A similar story is unfolding in Minnesota, where the proposed Twin Metals copper and nickel mine, both of which are needed to make EVs, recently received some bad news. On January 26, the Department of the Interior cancelled two mineral leases, this time placing a whopping 225,000 acres off limits. A Reuters story notes that, “President Joe Biden’s administration is increasingly comfortable prioritizing domestic conservation efforts even as demand for minerals used to build electric vehicles rises amid efforts to combat climate change.”
Maybe least surprising, but still damaging, is the Environmental Protection Agency’s January 30th preemptive veto under the Clean Water Act of the long-debated Pebble Mine (abd up to 300 square miles around it) in Alaska. The Pebble Mine is perhaps the nation’s largest untapped metals deposit, containing vast amounts of gold, copper, molybdenum, and the rare earths needed to make batteries.
Even if approved, these three projects would not provide nearly enough minerals to meet the President’s stated goal of a large scale shift away from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles toward EVs. Nor would they address the equally daunting shortage of minerals processing capacity not reliant on China. Thus, beyond the immediate damage done by the regulatory roadblocks on these three projects is the chilling effect on the dozens of others that would also be required.