In a timely hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, witnesses discussed the urgency of securing U.S. mineral supply chains in a post-COVID context.
Committee Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has long been an advocate of comprehensive mineral resource policy reform set the stage arguing that “[t]he pandemic has brought home that we don’t produce many goods important to our country.” While pointing out that the mining industry may not have faced the same level of disruption as some other sectors, she said that it is “hard not to conclude that we have been lucky here, and luck usually isn’t a very good strategy.” Invoking recent studies, such as the recent World Bank report released as part of the global lender’s “Climate Smart Mining” Initiative pointing to the mineral intensity of a low-carbon future she underscored that now is the time to address our nation’s over-reliance on foreign (and in particular, Chinese) supplies of critical minerals.
Simon Moores, Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and member of the American Resources Policy Network (ARPN) panel of experts, who in prior testimony had warned that the U.S. had become a “bystander in the global battery arms race,” argued that while a new global lithium ion economy was being created, “any US ambitions to be a leader in this lithium ion economy continue to only creep forward and be outstripped by China and Europe. In more stark terms: China is building the equivalent of one battery megafactory a week, the USA one every four months.”
While warning that “[i]n the USA, progress is far too slow on building out a domestic lithium ion economy,” Moores did point to opportunities to alleviate what has become a dire outlook, but said that it would effectively require rebuilding a heavy industry from scratch — and “at a speed, at scale, and quality that will make most of corporate America uncomfortable.”
He closed by invoking the U.S.’s successful creation of a widespread semiconductor industry in the 1980s:
“The lead that the USA built in semiconductors and computing power due to companies like Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel Corporation has sustained the USA’s dominance in global computing for over 5 decades.
Likewise, those who invest in battery capacity and supply chains today are likely to dominate this industry for generations to come.
It is not too late for the US but action is needed now.”
Other witnesses, which included Nedal Nassar of the U.S. Geological Survey, Joe Bryan of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, Mark Caffarey of Umicore USA, Inc., and Dr. Thomas J. Duesterberg of the Hudson Institute, echoed the sentiment.