A Contradiction in Terms
At the end of March, the President Joe Biden administration amended the U.S. Defense Production Act (DPA) to expand ďthe sustainable and responsible domestic mining, beneficiation, and value-added processing of strategic and critical materials necessary for the production of large-capacity batteries for the automotive, e-mobility and stationary storage sectors.Ē They finally discovered the flaw in their plan to regulate the oil and gas sector out of business and shift the public to electric cars. The U.S. doesnít have the capacity to fulfill its own needs and would have to import metals from countries that might not be so friendly toward it in the future.
Seriously though, we try not to wade too deep into politics with E&MJ, but sometimes itís unavoidable. Readers might recall that this is the same administration that only weeks before this DPA announcement canceled mineral leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota, a company that is proposing an underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals mine. This is the same administration that suspended the permits for the Ambler Access Road in Alaska, which would allow Trilogy Metals to move forward with its Upper Kobuk Mineral Project in the Ambler Mining District. It contains one of the worldís richest known copper-dominant polymetallic deposits. Itís also blocking mining projects from moving forward in Arizona.
What can the industry really expect from this? Will the federal government rein in overzealous regulators? Will they ignore the cries from environmental groups about the destruction of Sage grouse and Tiehmís buckwheat? Will they begin to fast-track permitting for the aforementioned projects that have been dealt a serious setback by the federal government?
Letís give the Biden administration the benefit of the doubt and letís also say they permit and even subsidize a dozen metal mining operations to begin production by summer 2023. Will that solve all the nationís problem? No. As it stands now, the U.S. would need to export those metals in the form of concentrates to another country, probably China, where they would be smelted and refined. The U.S. has severely limited smelting and refining capacity. The problem is that this is more than likely another knee-jerk reaction to a problem that really requires a significant, long-term solution.
If the U.S., or any country for that matter, wants to develop a domestic source of minerals and metals, they need to consider the entire chain from exploration to mining to mineral processing to smelting. The engineering skills, equipment and technology are available to mine and refine metals sustainably. The companies that invest and build these 20- to 30-year projects need to know that they have the political certainty to move forward with confidence. If the regulatory pendulum swings with each election cycle, the U.S. and others will only grow more dependent on imports.
Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ