Prior to the 2020 presidential election, an anonymous source from the Biden campaign told a Reuters reporter that Biden would support domestic mining for the metals needed to build electric vehicles. By May, however, now-President Joe Biden had changed his tune, announcing that the new administration would not seek to develop these metals domestically and that the U.S. would import them instead from “allies.”
The administration’s bait-and-switch is not surprising but is bitterly disappointing. That’s because it virtually guarantees enriching our adversaries abroad, not our allies, while killing thousands of high-paying jobs right here at home.
Demand for metals such as copper, nickel, cobalt, and lithium will increase substantially under the Biden administration’s targets of having half of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2030 and all new cars electric by 2040.
Despite the administration’s lip service to importing these metals from friendly countries like Canada and Australia, data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) puts the lie to these claims.
An authoritative new report from the International Energy Agency finds that electric vehicles use more than twice as much copper as conventional engines, but USGS data show the U.S. already produces more copper than Canada or Australia. This means additional supply would likely need to come from Chile, Peru, China, or the Congo.
The story is similar for cobalt, 67% of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where as many as 40,000 children have been employed digging cobalt ore out of the ground by hand. The U.S. currently uses more cobalt than the combined output of Australia and Canada, and we haven’t even begun to subsidize or mandate electric vehicles to meet Biden’s targets.
Even when our allies produce significant quantities of metals such as nickel and lithium, Biden’s claim that we’ll be purchasing these materials from friendly countries ignores that China is the leading processor of copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium, according to the International Energy Agency. This means, regardless of where these metals are mined, China gains custody of them throughout the global supply chain.
Instead of importing these metals from China — where millions of Uighur Muslim minorities are being forced into slavery to build solar panels — we should be mining and refining these metals in the U.S. where we can create thousands of high-paying jobs and can ensure that mineral development is subject to environmental and human-rights standards.
Minnesota would stand to benefit enormously from such a pro-mining, pro-human stance because our state contains 34% of America’s copper reserves, 95% of our nickel, 88% of our cobalt, 51% of our platinum, and 48% of our palladium.
Center of the American Experiment research shows that responsibly developing these resources could create up to 14,500 new jobs in Minnesota. Even more jobs would be created if we made a concerted effort to process these materials domestically, because mineral processing is a labor-intensive value-add.
The Biden administration’s bait-and-switch on mining doesn’t necessarily doom copper-nickel mining in Minnesota, but it does erect more hurdles that could delay projects to death or wrongly withdraw the mineral leases from Twin Metals in a reprise of misguided Obama-era mining policies.
This all raises a bigger question: Why would President Biden want to create jobs in any country that isn’t the United States of America? The job of president should include bringing jobs to the U.S., not shipping them to our adversaries — or even allies — overseas.
This means we should be mining, refining, and creating manufacturing jobs in the United States to create high-paying jobs for American workers, including hard-working Minnesotans.
Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative public-policy think tank based in Golden Valley, Minnesota.