Joe Biden invokes Defense Production Act for electric vehicle batteries and clean energy

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The Biden administration plans to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to accelerate the mining and processing of key minerals used in batteries for renewable energy and electric vehicles. This could include nickel, lithium, cobalt, graphite and manganese, according to the White House fact sheet.

“The president is also considering other potential uses for DPA — in addition to minerals and materials, to ensure safer, cleaner, and more resilient energy for America,” the fact sheet says.

Biden made the announcement as part of a broader package of actions aimed at addressing soaring energy prices. The move is also part of an immediate move away from Russian imports since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And it serves the Biden administration’s long-term climate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions this decade and achieving a clean power grid by 2035.

The Defense Production Act allows the President to respond to a national emergency by requiring companies to prioritize federal contracts for goods or materials it deems necessary. Biden has previously invoked the law to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with masks, tests and vaccines.

This time, the law prioritizes the production of battery materials that are key to cleaning up two of the biggest sources of climate pollution: transportation and the power grid. Batteries made with elements like lithium and nickel power electric vehicles and store wind and solar energy.

Securing nickel in particular has become a big headache since Russia invaded Ukraine. Earlier this year, the United States added nickel to its official list of critical minerals. High-purity nickel is a key component of rechargeable batteries, and around 20% of the world’s nickel supply comes from Russia. The United States has an active high-grade nickel mine in Michigan that could run out of deposits by 2025, The Wall Street Journal reports.

But proposals to mine new deposits of nickel and other minerals deemed critical to the country’s energy security and climate goals have supporters on high alert. “More than a century of reckless mining has poisoned the air, water and land of too many communities, many of them Indigenous,” said Lauren Pagel, the nonprofit’s policy director. Earthworks, in a press release.

“The clean energy transition cannot be built on dirty mining. Developing mining without addressing the loopholes in our archaic mining laws would be disastrous,” Pagel said. To minimize environmental damage and prevent further injustice, the Home Office announced in February that it planned to update mining laws that haven’t changed much since the late 1800s.

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Biden to use the Defense Production Act to promote more technologies that support a clean energy transition. More than 200 environmental and humanitarian groups sent a letter to Joe Biden on March 9 asking him to invoke the Defense Production Act to spur the production and deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Democratic senators including Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Ed Markey sent a letter to Biden on March 23 suggesting that the United States exploit the Defense Production Act to “support and increase manufacturing capacity and supply chain security.” ‘supply for technologies that reduce the demand for fossil fuels’. This letter focused on the manufacture of electric heat pumps especially for the United States and Europe. Electric heat pumps could reduce the need for gas and oil to heat buildings. Biden has already banned oil and gas imports from Russia. The EU, which is much more dependent on fossil fuels from Russia than the United States, plans to deploy 10 million heat pumps over the next five years as part of an effort to reduce imports of Russian gas.

“Due to the humanitarian, energy and economic crises caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we urge you to use all the tools and authority at your disposal to come to the aid of our residents and allies and to take preventive measures to limit future instability caused by climate change and conflict funded by fossil fuel profits,” the senators wrote.

Securing supply chains for critical metals and minerals was already a top priority for clean energy advocates before the war in Ukraine further stoked concerns. Lithium, cobalt and nickel are needed to make batteries. Wind turbines need rare earth elements and aluminum. Solar panels are constructed with copper, silicon, and silver, to name a few crucial building blocks.

The problem is that the extraction and processing of these materials is often concentrated in a handful of countries, including some where conflict and alleged human rights abuses have marred supply chains. All of this puts additional pressure on the Biden administration to strengthen domestic supply chains, whether through mining or better recycling of these materials.

Biden’s actions today are also boosting oil and gas, at least in the short term. Biden announced the largest-ever release of oil from the United States’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve after blocking Russian imports of fossil fuels earlier this month. He is also pushing for increased domestic oil production, according to the White House, to reduce exorbitant gas pump prices. Biden plans to ask Congress to make fossil fuel companies pay royalties on the wells they “hoard without producing,” according to the fact sheet. The United States has also increased its exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe as the EU tries to wean itself off its dependence on Russian energy products.

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