Policies to match rhetoric

The sense of urgency for permit reform that was heard throughout the three-day Alaska Sustainable Energy conference echoes a wider call for policymakers on Capitol Hill to craft legislation that will streamline the federal regulatory framework for large-scale projects in the U.S.

In a report published earlier this year, R Street Institute says America’s clean energy ambitions are at risk without matching mining policies.

“Despite political rhetoric and policies promoting the use of domestic critical minerals in clean energy through the Inflation Reduction Act and executive actions, the United States is well short of being able to supply enough minerals to fuel its own clean energy transition, much less to be a major global supplier of minerals needed for clean energy technology as politicians are keen to depict,” Philip Rossetti, senior fellow for energy and environment at R Street, penned in the executive summary of the report.

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank calculates that at current domestic production levels, the U.S. would be 74% import-reliant for copper, 99% for cobalt, 98% for nickel, and 100% for the lithium needed for the clean energy transition by 2040.

“If all proposed projects for copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium entered the market, the potential import-reliance for these minerals for a net-zero emission energy transition would fall to 41%, 99%, 95%, and 51%, respectively,” Rossetti wrote.

Getting the energy transition metal import numbers down would require moving forward with large, advanced-stage projects like Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.’s proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, considered to be the world’s largest undeveloped deposit of copper.

According to R Street analysis, Pebble alone could meet 12% of the copper needed to meet America’s climate goals by 2040. When combined with Resolution, a proposed copper mine in Arizona being advanced by Rio Tinto and BHP, copper production in the U.S. would double.

“The likelihood or timing of major mines entering the market in the United States is uncertain, though, and our own analysis of proposed mines found that practically every major project relevant for clean energy has been delayed over issues of permitting, leasing and litigation,” he added. “This is problematic because, absent increased domestic production, the United States will remain reliant on foreign suppliers – a fact that is creating its own potential challenges.”

This is why many analysts, investors, policymakers, and members of Biden’s administration that attended the Alaska Sustainable Energy conference are joining the mining sector in calling for sensible permitting reform in the U.S.