President Biden’s First Term Minerals Mining Legacy

Posted on May 22, 2024 by Minerals Make Life

President Biden’s first term in office has had mixed results for U.S. minerals policy. The Biden administration came into office committed to building an advanced energy economy capable of achieving ambitious climate goals. However, ambitious policy goals require a clear-eyed policy agenda.

While the administration has been working urgently to establish overseas mineral partnerships and alliances to secure U.S. supply chains, the administration has notably lacked the same urgency to develop the domestic minerals our economy and national security require here at home.

The minerals mining industry represents a critical input to nearly every supply chain for advanced energy technologies. From solar panels and wind energy to electric vehicle batteries and large-scale energy storage solutions for the U.S. grid, minerals are essential to building and powering these much-needed technologies.

Lots of Talk with Little Action

President Biden’s entry into the White House was marked by decisive action in his first 100 days. He issued executive orders to assess America’s supply chains and stimulate energy investments and jobs. For instance, his Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains mandated federal agencies to conduct a 100-day review of the vulnerabilities and risks in the supply chains of four key sectors: semiconductors, high-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, and minerals. The subsequent report revealed a heavy reliance on mineral imports, particularly from China, for advanced energy technologies. It also highlighted the significant mineral resources within the U.S. coupled with the lack of domestic processing and refining capabilities to tap into them.

Following numerous executive orders calling for investments and expansions of U.S. minerals mining, the President launched an Interagency Working Group on Mining Reform to identify a whole-government approach to addressing the country’s challenges. Almost 19 months later, the working group released its report, packed with one recommendation after another that would make mining more difficult and far more costly, completely overlooking the delay-ridden permitting process.

Made in America Should Mean Mined in America

Without a clear plan to address the policy challenges preventing U.S. miners from accessing the minerals needed to secure America’s supply chains, President Biden announced his American Jobs Plan, a $2.3 trillion proposal to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure and boost our economy by creating millions of energy jobs. Congress responded by sending a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and an $800 billion energy and climate change bill to the President’s desk.

Each bill included significant investments in advanced energy, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing and many other sectors. Each emphasized the need to secure mineral supply chains by bolstering the domestic mining industry with incentives, grants, and loans but failed to address the mine permitting process.

The Biden administration then initiated an expansive overseas minerals strategy to reduce our reliance on Chinese minerals. The administration focused on investments in Africa and partnerships with our allies in Canada, Australia, Asia and Europe, again, without a corresponding plan for increasing domestic minerals production.

Modest Headway on Permitting Reform

Although permitting policy reforms weren’t included in the President’s signature laws, modest reforms were signed into law with the Fiscal Responsibility Act. However, bills that would decisively modernize the mine permitting processes in the U.S., like the Building American Energy Security Act, Spur Permitting of Underdeveloped Resources (SPUR) Act, and Revitalizing the Economy by Simplifying Timelines and Assuring Regulatory Transparency (RESTART) Act, have not been advanced. These bills would help address permitting delays and put the U.S. on track to lead minerals mining.

Back-and-Forth on Mining Direction

Following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and other notable bills, federal agencies started to roll out loans and grants to support certain U.S. mining projects. The Department of Energy issued the largest-ever loan to Lithium Americas to support the development of its lithium carbonate processing plant. The Department of Defense extended funding to numerous projects including Perpetua Resources’ Stibnite mine and Talon Metals nickel project.

Federal regulators initially excluded U.S. minerals mines from the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, but they reversed course after significant pressure from senators.

While these and other similar steps are important, they were made in parallel to decisions by the Biden administration to withdraw hundreds of thousands of acres of mineral-rich lands from mining use. The Biden Administration canceled the mineral leases for the Twin Metals mine, setting back efforts to develop copper and nickel, which are important to our economy. The administration blocked the Ambler Road project in Alaska, which would have provided access to a range of minerals. These decisions set America back, deepening our already embarrassing dependence on China.

Moving Forward

While the Biden administration has taken some important actions on American mining during this first term, many counter-efforts will keep the U.S. reliant on foreign minerals well into the future. It’s time to recognize the mining sector’s strategic significance for the nation’s economic, environmental and security goals.

We are at a critical juncture, and the actions our country takes in the next few years will have lasting implications for the future of our global competitiveness and national security. The administration must sharpen its approach to building the mineral supply chains we need and that requires leaning into the promise of American mining.

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