Preface from OurEnergyPolicy
|In the time since our November 2019 critical minerals discussion, COVID-19 has decimated global supply chains. Factory shutdowns in China, which accounts for 40–50% of the global wind power supply chain, have caused supply shortages of wind turbine components and massive financial losses, threatening current U.S. projects. China’s outsized market share is also affecting the solar market, although some analysts say a U.S. tariff on imported solar panels may have blunted the impact.
“If coronavirus has shown us anything, it’s that we are far too reliant on China and other countries for key minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel,” said Doug Cole, CEO of American Battery Metals.
Read more below from Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) about the importance for the energy industry of addressing the United States’ reliance on foreign minerals, and please participate in the discussion!
The coronavirus pandemic has made clear that robust supply chains are essential to our economy and public health. I have been working for years to bring attention to one of America’s most significant supply chain vulnerabilities—a lack of domestic production of the minerals and materials needed to produce everything from medical equipment to defense systems—and I believe that action to address it is now timelier than ever.
America’s reliance on foreign nations for minerals is an acute risk that we need to take seriously and reverse. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, last year we imported at least 50 percent of our supply of 46 minerals, including 100 percent of 17 of those. I have described this as our Achilles’ heel, because it serves to empower and enrich other nations while costing us jobs, damaging our competitiveness, and undermining our ability to lead the industries of the future.
Energy is no exception: we need a wide array of strategic minerals to build the solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, pipelines, and other infrastructure needed to power our society. To produce more of these technologies, we will need a massive increase in supplies of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite, to name just a few. Yet China has consolidated its power over their production and processing while America lags far behind.
Our foreign mineral dependence is not breaking news; it just rarely makes the news. For example, did you read the World Bank’s report forecasting 1,000 percent growth in demand for key minerals to meet global climate goals? Or Foreign Policy’s documentation of China’s decisive moves to control minerals and entire industries? Simon Moores, of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, succinctly drove the point home when he testified before our committee last year that, “We are in the midst of a global battery arms race, in which so far the U.S. is a bystander.”
We have effectively surrendered the front end of the supply chain to other nations. If we fail to adjust course, we will continue to cede jobs and economic growth. We will face supply disruptions and price spikes for essential building blocks that we effectively choose not to produce. The Trump administration deserves credit for the steps it has taken to change our trajectory, and I have re-introduced my American Mineral Security Act to strengthen those efforts. My bipartisan bill provides a comprehensive framework to rebuild our domestic mineral supply chain through geological surveying, forecasting, workforce training, research and development, recycling, and a more efficient permitting process.
As our country begins to emerge from the current crisis and considers options to restore our economy, it is critical that we set a course for long-term resilience by addressing the supply chain vulnerabilities the pandemic has exposed. That should start with mineral security—and the modernization of federal policies that will serve to protect us going forward.