Rising opposition to mining lithium, copper and other metals in the U.S. may force the country to rely on imports and delay efforts to electrify the nation’s vehicles.
The U.S. anticipates groundbreaking on new EV manufacturing facilities from Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and other manufacturers.
President Joe Biden indicated earlier this year that he prefers to rely on allies for EV metals, pitting U.S. automakers against international rivals for supply in the rush toward electrification.
The move should placate environmentalists against U.S. mining. But by importing the metals, the U.S. could boost greenhouse gas emissions by increasing shipping from overseas mines to processing facilities, largely in Asia.
A Reuters analysis found that proposed U.S. mining projects could produce enough copper to build over 6 million EVs, enough lithium to build over 2 million EVs and enough nickel to build over 60,000 EVs. The news organization based the estimates on the volume of materials needed to make a Tesla Model 3. But other EV types use different amounts of these materials.
Mining must start in 2022 to have enough raw materials domestically to support EV manufacturing, maintains James Calaway, executive chairman of ioneer Ltd.
Biden issued an executive order in August to make half of all vehicle’s electric by 2030. But other Washington efforts stand in the way. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to label a rare flower found acreage at ioneer's Nevada lithium mine site as endangered, which could impede permitting. And the U.S. Department of Energy is weighing a decision to lend the company over $300 million to build the mine.
Federal judges will rule in two separate cases on whether to reverse mine approvals granted by former President Donald Trump to Lithium Americas Corp. and Rio Tinto Pic.
State legislation also is pending. Minnesota regulators are considering whether to revoke or reissue permits issued to PolyMet Mining Corp. PolyMet's mine could become a major U.S. nickel producer as the only U.S. nickel mine currently in operation will close by 2025. Piedmont Lithium Inc.’s failure to apprise local landowners of its development plans may cost the company local zoning approvals in North Carolina.
Biden helped block Antofagasta Plc's Twin Metals copper and nickel mine project in Minnesota for 20 years. The proposed underground mine would have become a major U.S. supplier of copper for EVs, which use twice as much copper as vehicles with internal combustion engines.
Other proposed mines face opposition from indigenous groups, ranchers or residents.
Many proposed mining projects have staunch support from labor unions.
Biden's EV goal "means good-paying union jobs for working people in responsible mining operations that will both supply battery minerals and protect the environment," said Tom Conway, head of the United Steelworkers, a union that represents some U.S. miners.