U.S. Automakers Race to China due to Vital Rare Earth Dependence

by | Apr 12, 2021 |

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The Biden administration’s feckless “Build Back Better” plans trade away dependable fossil energy independence needed to reliably power our industry, air condition our homes, and fuel our transportation. This is in exchange for intermittent and unreliable “green energy” reliance upon vital rare earth material-dependent electronics will benefit only Beijing.

China is reportedly known to be looking into strategies to leverage its control of rare earths against competitive Western interests. Last January, according to the Financial Times, their Ministry of Industry and Information has proposed draft controls where industry executives were asked to assess how U.S. and European companies could be affected if Beijing decided to cut rare-earth exports during a bilateral dispute.

A Chinese government adviser told the Financial Times that one of the topics discussed was whether the U.S. “may have trouble making F-35 fighter jets if China imposes an export ban.”

Chinese industry executives were also reportedly asked to comment on how quickly the United States could secure rare earths from alternative suppliers or increase its production capacity.

Rare earths are 17 indispensable metals used in an endless variety of 21st Century technologies, including, the manufacturing of domestic and strategic military airplanes, computers and smartphones, electricity generation and transmission systems, advanced weapon guidance systems, and yes, “Green New Deal” priorities like solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries for utility-scale energy storage and electric vehicles (EVs).

U.S. automakers are racing to China as an opportunity to cash in on the Democrat plan to transform America’s transportation to 100% EVs.

In January 2020, Tesla Inc. kicked off production of its first vehicle manufactured outside the U.S. in its new $2 billion Shanghai, China factory.

GM, China’s second-biggest foreign automaker, is aiming to offer four models as it looks to improve its brand image and support a sales recovery: Chevrolet’s Tahoe and Suburban, Cadillac’s Escalade, and the GMC Yukon Denali.

Ford announced plans last January to manufacture its Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric SUV, in China.

In addition to providing a large automotive sales market, China will maintain a chokehold over batteries needed for U.S. EV and hybrid production everywhere.

A report from Securing America’s Future Energy indicates that China currently controls nearly 70% of electric vehicle battery manufacturing capacity, compared to just 10% by the U.S.

The report projects that 107 of the 142 EV battery manufacturing projects scheduled by 2021 will be in China… with only nine in the U.S.

An enormously ominous reality is that Beijing controls about 80 percent of the global supply of rare earth minerals and compounds to leverage in a trade war against the West.

Whereas China only actually possesses about an estimated one-third of global rare earth reserves, in 2017 it supplied 78% of the 17,000 tons of those materials imported to the U.S.

Making matters even worse, many of the rare earths mined in the USA are processed in the People’s Republic of China because it’s cheaper to have them do it than to pay for American regulatory environmental and workplace safety costs.

Although America has an abundance of rare earths, environmental opposition to mining them has resulted in a regulatory minefield of local, state, and federal rules that have turned permitting into a costly decades-long process.

Lawmakers have all but banned rare earth mineral exploration and development on materials-rich federal lands, and the few once-active mines have been shuttered largely due to compliance costs.

Mountain Pass in California is the sole U.S. remaining operating rare earth mine that lost two years of production due to a 2016 bankruptcy, continues to send its mined ore to China for processing.

In September 2020, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) 13953 to remedy this national mining industry emergency.

The order states: “In the 1980s, the United States produced more of these elements than any other country in the world, but China used aggressive economic practices to strategically flood the global market for rare earth elements and displace its competitors.”

EO 13953 built on Trump’s December 2017 EO 13817 that required the Interior Secretary to identify critical materials and reduce “the nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals,” especially those from China and Russia.

Many of the EO 13953 recommendations were later incorporated into the Energy Act of 2021, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act that also funded Covid pandemic relief.

The new law requires the Energy Department to conduct a research and development program for environmentally responsible and biologically safe advanced separation technologies for extraction and recovery of rare earth elements and other critical materials from coal and coal byproducts.

During Trump’s final days in office, the Bureau of Land Management announced new decisions that took effect January 15 to expand and fast-track permitting of potential mining – including rare earths – on federal lands. BLM (the government one) also approved a new lithium mine in Nevada, along with a land swap to ease final approval of an Arizona Twin Metals copper mine.

With these final acts, the Trump administration will have laid the groundwork to support the 21st Century technology the raw materials needs that President Biden has promised will drive tomorrow’s U.S. economy.

After all, during his election campaign, Biden pledged to “accelerate innovation in supply-chain resilience” and address “issues like reliance on rare earth minerals.”

Now that Democrats control the White House and Congress, will anti-mining factions undermine Trump’s progress?

If so, they must be prepared to address strong opposition from green activist groups within their ranks in Minnesota, Nevada, and Arizona – including some Native American tribes.

An organization named “Save the Boundary Waters,” for example, is working to rescind federal permitting that was issued for the Minnesota mine.

New Mexico Native American Deb Haaland, Joe Biden’s nominee to head up his administration’s Interior Department, will need to deal with heated opposition from Native American tribal groups who oppose the fast-tracking of approval of the Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona which they argue would desecrate sacred lands.

Vice President Kamala Harris has previously gone on record as opposing almost any new mining operations. This presumably includes mining of rare earths that will be vital to implement the Green New Deal she originally co-sponsored…unless, of course, she plans to purchase them from Beijing.

It remains to be seen what the new Biden-Harris administration is willing to trade away to achieve their carbon-free energy agenda.

Will they dare to confront the ire of their party’s activist anti-mining factions and make America rare earth-independent?

Or rather, will they “transition” America away from fossil fuels into total dependence on the charitable good graces of Beijing to keep their green new dreams alive?

It’s time to demand answers to those basic questions now – before China’s rapidly expanding domination of our nation’s life-blood industries and economies decide for us all.

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Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the space architecture graduate program. He is the author of several books, including "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), and "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles."

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