Commentary: More U.S. Mining Is a Win for People and the Planet

by Pete Stauber and Danielle Butcher Franz


In a continuing trend of mixed signals from the Biden Administration, NASA of all agencies has gone on record as opposing a new lithium mining project in Nevada.

Since assuming office in 2021, President Biden has prioritized the development of wind and solar projects, but there’s been a clear and consistent hypocrisy from administration officials. To build these energy projects, we need raw materials such as copper, cobalt, and lithium – all rare earth minerals which require more mining – something the Biden Administration is refusing to champion. This was on clear display in our home state of Minnesota, where earlier this year, the Biden Interior Department banned copper-nickel mining in part of the Duluth Complex in the Superior National Forest. The Duluth Complex in northern Minnesota is home to the largest copper-nickel find in the world. The area contains 95% of America’s nickel reserves, almost 90% of our cobalt reserves, and some 33% of our copper reserves.

Yet, with the expansion of clean energy and other mineral needs, demand for raw materials such as copper is only expected to increase in the coming years. In fact, the World Bank estimates that by 2050, our global mining needs will grow by approximately 500%. That is a massive increase, of course, and will require political willpower to mine. If we’re going to expand mining, for the wellbeing of people and our planet, we should do it here in the U.S.

Currently, many of these raw materials are sourced from countries like China and the DR Congo. In fact, China controls 80% of the world’s rare-earth element supply, a stunning monopoly. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used this monopoly to assert its influence in foreign nations, such as the DRC. These countries, though, have disturbing and abysmal labor and environmental standards. In the DRC, for example, there have been instances of child slave labor in mines, a grievous violation of basic human rights. The exploitation and mistreatment of children through forced labor is an abhorrent practice that should never be tolerated.

In contrast, the U.S. has some of the best labor and environmental standards in the world. If we reshore the mining and processing of crucial raw materials, Americans and our environment win. U.S. mining jobs are well-paying and safer for laborers than the industry often is abroad. Additionally, the U.S. is far better equipped to conserve our natural environment while conducting mining projects using advanced American technology and 21st Century mining methods. In other words, we have the tools to mine for the materials we need without destroying our environment.

Unfortunately, it’s not only political willpower that is holding back American mining. Our burdensome permitting process is also hindering our ability to mine and process the likes of copper, cobalt, and lithium in this country. Earlier this year, Republicans in Congress passed H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act, which included Rep. Stauber’s PERMIT-MN Act and other provisions, which would modernize the permitting process for 2023 mining needs.

The fact remains that when we employ an “out of sight, out of mind” mining strategy, both Americans and our environment lose. Not only do Americans lose out on good-paying jobs, but we’re supporting a dirtier, unsafe industry abroad. If we care about our planet and our people, the U.S. will take control of its mining future.

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Congressman Pete Stauber has represented Minnesota’s eighth congressional district since 2019. Danielle Butcher Franz, born and raised in Minnesota, is the executive vice president of the American Conservation Coalition Action (ACC Action).




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