Excerpt: The good news is that the United States doesn’t need to depend on China for its renewable energy supply chains. Instead, America should start matching China’s industrial strategy. And that means tapping our domestic mineral resources.
It’s time to mine rare earth metals at home
[Michael Stumo | March 8, 2020 | Dallas Morning News]
As the recent presidential debates have shown, many in Washington are eager to move forward on a renewable energy future. Policymakers are already considering wider production of electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels. But there’s a problem. The United States currently produces only a fraction of the different metals needed to manufacture these 21st century technologies. And even worse, America’s primary supplier for many key metals is China, a strategic competitor with a long history of toxic production and unsafe labor conditions.
The good news is that the United States doesn’t need to depend on China for its renewable energy supply chains. Instead, America should start matching China’s industrial strategy. And that means tapping our domestic mineral resources.
Why focus on mining? Because electric cars require metals like lithium, nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese and graphite. Wind turbines need rare earths like neodymium and dysprosium. And solar panels use minerals like cadmium, tellurium, germanium and selenium. The list goes on, with even cell phones using plenty of gold, silver, copper, cobalt and zinc.
The coming surge in demand for these metals and minerals will be staggering. Researchers in Sweden project that the stock of available minerals required for electric vehicles will need to increase by 87,000 percent in order to meet climate goals, and the resources for solar panels will need to rise 1,000 percent; wind turbines, 3,000 percent.
Right now, the United States is heavily dependent on other countries to supply dozens of key metals and minerals, countries often found to be exploiting workers, resources, and the environment. This reliance on imported minerals has nearly doubled over the past two decades. And no country controls more supplies globally than China. Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey reportedthat China continues to “dominate” the global supply of rare earths, supplying 80 percent of the rare earths used in the United States.
As someone who studies U.S.-China trade, this troubles me greatly. China’s dominance of metals and minerals is strategic. Control of mining and processing allows Beijing to exert power over global industries. Washington must pay attention, particularly when this control includes labor camps, a disregard for environmental standards, and efforts to degrade U.S. industry.
In order for the United States to reshore manufacturing and to lead on advanced technologies, we must reduce our reliance on China. The United States is home to vast, untapped geologic deposits. We should develop our own mineral and metal supply chains, following smart, safe environmental standards. Mining will remain essential for producing the next generation of advanced industries. Doing it here at home will protect the global environment while supporting good jobs in many domestic industries.
Michael Stumo is chief executive of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.
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