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Will The US Mine For Rare Earth And Exotic Minerals? – OpEd

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A conservative cost put the clean energy transition at $1.7 trillion needed for mining of copper, cobalt, lithium and other rare earth and exotic metals and minerals. This transition will supposedly fuel electric vehicles (EVs) being cheaper than gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2027, and electric SUVs cheaper by 2026, according to BloombergNEF. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a new report found renewable installations for energy to electricity “soared to 280 GW globally in 2020, up 45% from 2019,” with “renewables (solar and wind) accounting for 90% of global electric capacity installations in 2021 and 2022.” 

These are major reasons why the Biden administration is set to approve the first large-scale offshore wind farm, “an 800-megawatt project off the coast of Massachusetts.” Unknown to the U.S. President this wind farm installation will lead to wrecking a beautiful coastline over enormous land and ocean/sea requirements for renewables, and increased emissions since renewables have to be backstopped by fossil fuels or zero-carbon nuclear when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. 

President Biden wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% before 2030 without giving a detailed plan on a transition from fossil fuels and nuclear that will be incomprehensibly expensive and technologically impossible. Furthermore, renewables used for baseload electricity needs have led to grid blackouts in Texas, California, Germany, and Australia. 

Obviously, tens of millions of tons of mining for rare earth and exotic minerals are required for this low-to-zero carbon future. For now, renewables, EVs, and utility-scale storage overwhelmingly rely on China for rare earth/exotic minerals needed for solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage systems to work as advertised. The U.S. Geologic Survey has highlighted 35 key rare earth elements used in “clean” energy technologies, but imports account for 14 out of 17 of the most basic ones.

Low-carbon futures, clean energy transitions, decarbonizing electrical grids, or a Green New Deal will only succeed with “major increases in U.S. mining and processing – unless (we) want to make America even more dependent on China and Russia.” A recent Wall Street Journal article exclaimed: “A Good Battery is the Best Defense Against a Military Assault.” These are national security mineral and metals for 21st century technologies. The case can be made rare earth metals and exotic minerals are the new realist balancing option between the U.S. versus China for global hegemony.

Currently, rare earth metals and minerals mined in the U.S. are treated in China “to pay the cheaper prices associated with processing under China’s abominable pollution, wage and workplace safety rules.” The U.S. can no longer ignore the geopolitical risks, environmental degradations, and Chinese hostility if it wants to build a decarbonized, green economy. The Biden administration has a mining conundrum to overcome. Eco-activists have largely succeeded in banning U.S. mining; over the U.S. having an abundant amount of metal and minerals necessary to support and build clean technologies. 

The U.S. has only one operating rare-earth mine – Mountain Pass – which lost over two years of production due to a 2016 bankruptcy. Mountain Pass sends their mined ore to China for processing due to high environmental compliance costs – including regulatory minefields, and a byzantine quandary of local, state, and federal rules. Typical permits can take 2-3 decades to commence basic mining operations on mineral-laded federal and state lands.

During the final months of the Trump administration the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expanded mining operations on federal lands, allowed fast-track of mining permits, approved a new lithium mine in Nevada, and approved a land swap deal in Arizona for a copper mine. All actions took effect on January 15, 2021, and was applauded by Rich Nolan, president of the National Mining Association saying

“American mining is key to successfully repairing our nation’s infrastructure, (and) the very technologies essential to our recovering economy will be built on a foundation provided by mining.”

These moves allow the Biden administration an opportunity to meet critical rare earth and exotic mineral demands. The downside is China can undercut any progress through its “unfair advantages from ‘unethical’ and ‘dirty’ mining and forced labor practices.” China has ravaged their environment health and enslaved Chinese citizens over mining for these clean energy minerals and metals. Will Democrat-aligned lawmakers and environmentalists’ allow these atrocities to continue? 

Likely so, since Biden’s Vice President is adamantly opposed to new mining over climate change, his Interior Secretary opposes fast-track approvals for mining, and Green groups who support Biden along with Native American tribes all fight new mines in Minnesota, Nevada and Arizona.

The sobering reality is all solar panels, wind turbines, EVs, utility-scale and home energy storage systems “are far more mineral and metal intensive than conventional source such as fossil fuels.” Whether you like it or not: “renewable energy (all types) needs huge mineral supply.”

If mining doesn’t occur in the U.S., then China, Russia, the Congo, and other human right abusers’ flourish. The reason why, the climate charade that will be solved using renewables, EVs, and utility-scale storage. But the mining will take place somewhere. Unwise energy and mining policies continue when climates constantly change. When humans didn’t exist, it was warmer than today. 

We are consistently told if we don’t do something now for climate change the world will end as we know it, however, the United Nations “expects the average person by 2100 to earn 450% of today’s income. Climate (change) will reduce that to 434%.” Made up end-of-the-world problems over the untruthful narrative the world is burning up when factually the U.S. isn’t transitioning to renewables for electricity anytime soon according to energy professor and author Vaclav Smil.

Foolish reasons to not mine and create billions in economic benefits and tens of thousands of jobs over politicized climate change. Three climate science experts Steven Koonin, Richard Lindzen and William Happer have convincingly shown the earth has heated approximately 1 degree Celsius this century. This isn’t a catastrophe, it’s time to mine appropriately in the U.S.

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Todd Royal

Todd Royal, M.P.P. is the Managing Partner for Energy development, Oil & Gas, and Renewables for Ascendance Strategies, a global threat assessment and political consulting firm that is based in Los Angeles, California

One thought on “Will The US Mine For Rare Earth And Exotic Minerals? – OpEd

  • May 15, 2021 at 2:13 pm
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    Over the years the UN has claimed many untruths and has operated in many deceitful ways. But for the world’s premiere diplomatic body, to suggest that it is even remotely possible for global income to rise over 400% in the next 80 years, is nothing less than a fantasy. In the neoclassical economic paradigm, in which we currently live, income rise is completely dependent on increased gross domestic product, GDP. So what essentially the UN is predicting is a future whereupon the global economy will be over four times greater than it is now. In a finite material world, where the second law of thermodynamics rules, such a level of world-wide growth would cause an equal level of waste. The simple fact is: That such assumed economic growth would destroy the ecological balance of human civilization long before said growth could ever be achieved. Such economic modeling is divorced from physical reality. That is because economics is a mere subset of ecology and ecological balance. The central scientific fact of human production is that when low-entropy energy is used to do work; its quality always decreases. The same entropic relationship is true for all elements and minerals. But neo-classical economics is structured in a fantasy world where the second law of thermodynamics is non-existent. This absence of scientific reality has meant that our economic models work as perpetual motion machines. But the real world — in which we actually live — is not a model. And as economic growth multiplies in the 21st century, our living planet becomes more and more disordered and unsustainable. All, of us, know that there is no such thing as perpetual motion. But neo-classical economics believes that a human economy can grow forever. Ecology teaches us that a source is that part of the environment that supplies usable raw materials as a throughput by which the economy uses and then returns as waste. All the waste of an economy is returned to what are called environmental sinks. Sinks, if not overwhelmed, may be able to regenerate the waste through biogeochemical cycles back to usable sources. The organic nature of agriculture is a prime example. But in a constantly growing economy, sinks become cesspools, and all the biogeochemical cycles are inevitably altered. And at some point, their decline will render the air, water, soil, and the necessary patterns of each, harmful to many forms of life. And human beings and their civilization are very much a part of life. In fact, civilization arose through the sustainable use of biogeochemical cycles. We call it agriculture. But what would happen to agriculture in a material world four times greater than what we already have? The very products of the economy, and their inevitable waste would overwhelm the sinks and alter the delicate balance of the biogeochemical cycles. Yes, the human use of carbon-based fuels is accumulating in the sink of our atmosphere. And the Earth is indeed warming. But just by changing our energy source to wind or solar does not mean we have transitioned away from neo-classical economics or its environmental consequences. And it certainly does not mean that we have overcome the second law of thermodynamics. Solar and wind machines will have machine waste. This will happen at the point of production — mines and processing plants. It will also happen at the point of use — farm land replacement. And most dramatically, it will happen at our environmental sinks — as waste. The key to sustainability is to build a steady-state economy. That is an economy that satisfies basic needs, while improving the quality of life. In our time, the dominate economic system has replaced quality, with quantity. This has been true of the Soviet Union and China; as well as, the world’s hegemonic economic system, neo-classical capitalist economics. But now it is becoming clear that more and more quantity does not solve our environmental problems. Over-consumption can only exacerbate them. In a steady-state economy, human institutions are viewed as a subsystem in dynamic equilibrium with the parent ecosystem/biosystem that sustains those institutions. Also, in a steady-state economy, quantitative growth is replaced by qualitative development and equitable social improvement (universally) as the primary values of economic production. This is best achieved locally. Because it is always the locale which best understands the environmental qualities of any given area. In such a system, the economy might fluctuate somewhat, but essentially it stays at the same size. Of course, energy sources must be altered. But they must be altered in such a way that allows the entire gamut of energy and material throughput to be in harmony with nature. The current Green New Deal — which would change fossil fuel production, processing, consumption and waste to even greater amounts of minerals in all those same categories — will not be an improvement within the neo-classical economic system. We need easily accessible materials, with benign environmental consequences, within low consumption qualitative institutions. And all these elements must work together for the common good of the entire planet. Mutual harmony for all living creatures must be our watchword.

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