As the Democrat-controlled Senate lines up the party-line votes to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, featuring $369 billion in new federal spending for wind, solar, and electric vehicles (EVs), environmentalists are uncertain whether to cheer or weep.
If passed, the bill would be a victory for advocates of “renewable” energy and the elimination of fossil fuels. However, as is always the case with energy economics, the investment in renewables would come with an environmental cost: an enormous expansion of mining projects to extract the raw materials for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric batteries out of the earth.
The Biden administration is itself torn on the issue, attempting on the one hand to reduce America’s dependence on China and other foreign countries for the essential raw materials of his Green New Deal, while on the other hand blocking the permits and approvals that allow American mining companies to dig.
On Mar. 31, the Biden administration took a major step toward enacting a federal industrial energy policy by invoking the Defense Production Act to direct American companies toward producing more renewable energy. In justifying the use of what is normally an emergency wartime act, President Joe Biden declared in an official statement that “ensuring a robust, resilient, sustainable, and environmentally responsible domestic industrial base to meet the requirements of the clean energy economy” was “essential to our national security.”
Biden has set ambitious climate goals, including that the majority of U.S.-made cars will be EVs by 2030 and that EVs will replace gas-powered cars entirely by 2040, while shifting electric-power generation from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and hydro-utilities. This is in lockstep with global climate goals adopted by the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the Great Reset Initiative launched by the World Economic Forum in 2020. However, the mining of raw materials for this plan remains problematic.
“The United States depends on unreliable foreign sources for many of the strategic and critical materials necessary for the clean energy transition—such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese for large-capacity batteries,” Biden stated. “Demand for such materials is projected to increase exponentially as the world transitions to a clean energy economy.”
A ‘Huge Increase’ in Mining
According to a report by the International Energy Agency, an energy analytics group, “the shift to a clean energy system is set to drive a huge increase in the requirements for these minerals.”
The report notes that “a typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant.” It projects that in order to meet current green energy targets, the demand for lithium will grow by 40 times by 2040; the demand for graphite, cobalt, and nickel will grow by 20–25 times; the demand for rare earth elements will grow 3–7 times; and the demand for copper will double. A World Bank report on “Minerals for Climate Action” states that 17 minerals are essential to realizing green goals, including aluminum, copper, silver, indium, selenium and tellurium for photovoltaic cells; steel, copper, aluminum, zinc, lead, and neodymium for wind turbines; and graphite, lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and vanadium for batteries.
Most of these minerals currently ...