There is a moral imperative for making critically essential minerals and metals readily and economically available to U.S. manufacturers forging the nation’s low-carbon energy future. As we have learned, successful climate action now rests on a vast expansion of mining.
This is not a wake-up call where you hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. Mineral demand for green technologies — wind turbines, solar panels and the batteries in electric vehicles — is exploding. Unfortunately, these materials supply chains either don’t exist at the scale needed or are alarmingly controlled by hostile countries like China or Russia.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing belligerence, questions about the security implications of minerals and metals have resurfaced, prompting discussions about the most effective way to reduce U.S. dependence on imports of materials from hostile and unreliable countries.
The Inflation Reduction Act, just signed by the president, includes important measures to put the United States on the right track. The bill includes advanced manufacturing tax credits for mineral production and processing, new loan capacity from the Department of Energy for mining and processing projects, and newly expanded electric vehicle tax credits now tied to sourcing requirements for the minerals used in lithium-ion batteries. Beginning in 2024, electric vehicle buyers can claim $7,500 tax credits on new purchases only if 50 percent of the car’s battery metals are sourced from the United States or free-trade partner nations. The required percentage would grow to 80 percent in 2027.
This smart climate policy is also an extremely important energy security and industrial policy that will reorient and dramatically expand the supply chains needed to decarbonize the transportation sector. These sourcing requirements aren’t easy, but the race is now on for automakers to build supply chains outside of China’s grasp and invest in responsible, secure mineral development.
Yet, as promising as this policy is, it could fail if it’s not complemented by permitting reform. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia agreed to cooperate on the Inflation Reduction Act on the promise that Congress would soon take up energy infrastructure permitting reform that will streamline permitting for everything from solar installations to pipelines, transmission lines and the mines needed for our industrial base.
Building any new infrastructure in the United States — whether a highway, renewable energy project or mine — has become painfully slow or nearly impossible due to a permitting process tied up in endless red tape. That must change.
If Democrats were once the key barriers to permitting reform, there’s growing awareness that aggressive climate action requires building and building quickly. Self-imposed bureaucratic hurdles must come down if we are to reshore our industrial base and site the energy infrastructure needed to reshape how we produce and use energy in the decades ahead. Mine-permitting obstacles have become a poster child for how bad policy has weakened U.S. energy security and hamstrung industry.
Gaining permits to open new mines has been getting longer and longer. Miners regularly take seven to 10 years to gain the necessary permits to open new projects — if they are given at all. In Canada and Australia, nations with similarly high environmental standards, mine permitting takes just two to three years. We know we can do better and must.
Failure to advance permitting reform will sink U.S. climate efforts into a self-made quagmire of inaction. Congress must put partisan politics aside and recognize that U.S. energy security, economic competitiveness and emissions reduction all rest on our ability to permit and build the infrastructure of tomorrow. Doing so begins with building the mines to supply it.