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Legislation & Regulation

Administration Offers Up Conflicting Goals and Executive Orders

President Biden wasted little time in signing executive orders with conflicting goals. On January 27, 2021, he signed an executive order calling for federal officials to protect 30% of America’s lands and oceans by 2030. To reach this goal, our federal government would need to designate another 45.7 million acres as protected lands every year.

On February 24, President Biden signed Executive Order 14017, which  mandates a 100-day-review of supply chains to ensure demands will be met for several specific sectors, including critical and strategic minerals and large capacity batteries like those used in electric vehicles (EVs).

These two orders are in direct conflict and I’ll explain further.

From 2016 through 2019, I travelled to Washington, DC, with Clark Pearson of Public Lands for the People too many times to count. Working with our friends in DC, we armed ourselves with a 14-page document Clark and I wrote that detailed the current and coming problems regarding our lack of US-produced critical and strategic minerals. We met with members of the USGS, EPA, MSHA, USFS, BLM, Council on Environmental Quality, the Pentagon, the White House, and members of both parties in the House and Senate.

It became painfully obvious to us that the United States is far behind other countries in the area of mineral surveys. Early-day members of the USGS, like Waldemar Lindgren, were out in the field observing, sampling and documenting mineral occurrences. Eventually the USGS moved to relying on the private sector for much of this work. The agency reported or summarized the findings of the private sector, but the days of self-initiated, minerals-related field work became few and far between as the agency branched out to cover things like earthquakes, volcanoes, hydrology and climate.

Millions of acres have been placed off-limits across the United States without a mineral survey being completed, or worse yet, with prior knowledge that valuable deposits were part of an area withdrawn from mineral entry.

We offered several proposals to remedy the situation, including that no area should be considered as a mineral withdrawal until a mineral survey is completed.

The last administration and the current administration agree we have a critical supply problem here in America. We are at the whim of countries like China who do not like us and can cut off our critical and strategic supplies with little or no notice. Congress has been very slow to act on this issue and continues to propose placing additional lands off-limits that could hold the very minerals we need to obtain self-reliance.

And if you want to talk about environmental damage, just take a hard look at China. Their lack of environmental safeguards has consequences for all the world as they pollute our oceans and air. 

In “Made In China: Our Toxic, Imported Air Pollution,” David Kirby of Discover Magazine wrote: “Trace amounts of the poison can take less than a week to reach Oregon, where research suggest that about one-fifth of the mercury entering the Willamette River comes from abroad—increasingly from China.”

Critical and strategic minerals are utilized in everything from weapons systems and cell phones to solar panels and wind turbines. Electric vehicles currently require lithium, graphite, nickel, copper, manganese, aluminum, neodymium, dysprosium, terbium, lanthanum praseodymium, iron, silicon-steel, and cobalt. Tesla car batteries currently utilize either nickel cobalt aluminum or nickel manganese cobalt oxides, though Tesla’s Elon Musk stated they are attempting to move away from cobalt at least in vehicles manufactured in China. Solar panels typically require silver, copper, indium, gallium, selenium, cadmium, tellurium, aluminum and copper. For that wind turbine you’ll need neodymium, dysprosium, copper, aluminum and steel.

Tesla’s Musk recently announced  a goal to reach 20 million vehicles per year by 2030. To reach that goal, he would need 165% of the current worldwide supply of lithium. And that’s just one important component, and only one company.

If you want to “go green,” it’s going to take a lot of mining and exploration, and more access to public lands, not less.

© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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