The U.S. Won’t Get Clean Energy From Dirty Mining

The U.S. Won’t Get Clean Energy From Dirty Mining
Tribal councilman Wendsler Nosie Sr. speaks with Apache activists at a rally to save Oak Flat, near Superior, Ariz., in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, July 22, 2015 (AP photo by Molly Riley).

The Inflation Reduction Act approved by Congress in August was a huge step forward for U.S. climate action. Included in the $370 billion the bill earmarks for clean energy is a nudge toward building out a domestic supply chain for renewable technologies, including electric vehicle batteries. Since all renewable technologies are mineral-intensive, the supply chain starts with mining critical materials like copper, nickel, graphite and—in the case of electric car batteries—lithium.

The U.S. electric vehicle market is already booming. By 2030, up to 30 percent of new car sales in the U.S. will be electric, each one powered by a lithium-ion battery. With the U.S. demand surge mirrored globally, industry leaders and market analysts are warning of a lithium supply shortage.

The U.S. does have substantial lithium reserves. Indeed, at an estimated 9.1 million tons, it has the fourth-largest identified lithium reserves in the world, after Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. Yet, the U.S. supplies only 1 percent of the global lithium market, while fifth-place Australia supplies 55 percent. Other big suppliers are Chile with 26 percent, and China with 14 percent of the global market.

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