The recent threats by Beijing to cut off American access to critical mineral imports has many Americans wondering why our politicians have allowed the United States to become so overly-dependent on China for these valued resources in the first place.
Today, the United States is 90 percent dependent on China and Russia for many vital “rare earth minerals.”
The main reason for our over-reliance on nations like China for these minerals is not that we are running out of these resources here at home. The U.S. Mining Association estimates that we have at least $5 trillion of recoverable mineral resources.
The U.S. Geological Survey reports that we still have up to 86 percent or more of key mineral resources like copper and zinc remaining in the ground, waiting to be mined. These resources aren’t on environmentally sensitive lands, like national parks, but on the millions of acres of federal, state and private lands.
The mining isn’t happening because of extremely prohibitive environmental rules and a permitting process that can take 5-10 years to open a new mine. Green groups simply resist almost all new drilling.
What they may not realize is that the de facto mining prohibitions jeopardize the “Green Energy Revolution” that liberals so desperately are seeking.
How is this for rich irony: To make renewable energy at all technologically plausible, will require massive increases in the supply of rare earth and critical minerals. Without these valuable metals, there will not be more efficient 21st century batteries for electric cars, or modern solar panels. Kiss the Green New Deal and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ utopian vision of 100 percent renewable energy goodbye.
Yet for decades now, environmentalists have erected every possible barrier to mining here in America for critical minerals — which we have in great abundance.
Search far and wide through the grandiose Green New Deal plans and you will not find any call for additional domestic mining for battery-operated electric vehicles and electrified mass transportation systems, nor the underlying energy infrastructure.
Thanks to the extreme environmentalists we import from unfriendly and repressive governments the critical minerals needed to produce rechargeable batteries (lithium and cobalt), wind-turbine motors (dysprosium), thin films for solar power (tellurium) and miniature sensors that manage the performance of electric vehicles (yttrium).
Another irony in the left’s anti-mining crusade is that these same groups have long boasted that by eliminating our need for fossil fuels, America won’t rely on cartels like OPEC that have in the past held our nation hostage to wild price swings and embargoes. Greens also complain that fossil-fuel dependence requires a multi-billion dollar military presence in the Middle East and around the world to ensure supply. Now we can substitute OPEC with China and Russia.
Here is one simple but telling example of the shortsightedness of the “no mining” position of the environmentalists. Current electric vehicles can use up to 10 times more copper than fossil-fuel vehicles. Then, additional copper-wire networks will be needed to attach convenient battery chargers throughout public spaces and along roads and highways. Do we really want this entire transportation infrastructure to be dependent on China and Russia?
Of course, it is not just green energy development that will be imperiled by our mining restrictions folly. Innovation and research on new lightweight metals and alloys, such as those used in life-saving medical devices and tiny cameras in smartphones, could also become stalled if foreign prices rise prohibitively.
Also, because our mining laws (the one’s that don’t outright prohibit mining) protect the environment far more than those in nations like China and Africa, by importing these minerals, we are contributing to global environmental degradation.
So there you have it. The “keep-it-in-the-ground movement” demanded by environmentalists against use of almost all of America’s bountiful energy and mineral resources is blocking a green future and a safer planet. Do they know this? Do they care?
Stephen Moore, a columnist for The Washington Times, is a senior fellow at Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant at Freedom Works. Ann Bridges is co-author of “Groundbreaking!: America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.” This article first appeared in The Washington Times Commentary section on June 16, 2019.