If we want to see more electric cars on the road, then we may not have a choice but to get comfortable with extracting the necessary raw materials from the earth.
When it comes to batteries for the new revelation of electric vehicles (EVs), that means a whole lot more mining, but do Americans have the stomach for more mines?
A recent clash of environmental priorities over a rare plant, Tiehm’s buckwheat, pitted environmentalists against a mining operation. It was conservation vs. green energy and provides a microcosm of a much larger political quandary for President Biden’s administration, which already made big promises to environmentalists, labor groups and others who stand to benefit by a boost in mining.
To please conservationists, Biden has vowed to set aside at least 30% of U.S. federal land and coastal areas for conservation, triple current levels. But that could conflict with his promises to accelerate the electrification of vehicles and to reduce the country’s dependence on China for rare earths, lithium and other minerals needed for EV batteries. Sooner or later, Biden will be forced into hard choices that anger one constituency or another.
“You can’t have green energy without mining. That’s just the reality.”
Two sources familiar with White House deliberations on domestic mining told Reuters that Biden plans to allow mines that produce EV metals to be developed under existing environmental standards, rather than face a tightened process that would apply to mining for other materials, such as coal.
Demand for metals used in EV batteries is expected to rise sharply as automakers including Tesla (TSLA), BMW and General Motors (GM) plan major expansions of EV production. California, the biggest U.S. vehicle market, aims to entirely ban fossil-fuel-powered engines by 2035. Elsewhere, Biden has promised to convert the entire U.S. government fleet – about 640,000 vehicles – to EVs. That plan alone could require a 12-fold increase in U.S. lithium production by 2030, according to Benchmark Minerals Intelligence, as well as increases in output of domestic copper, nickel and cobalt.
So what will it be, more mines and EVs, or stonewall mines and keep paying China for their raw materials?