In a signal of how the Biden administration will tackle U.S. mining, U.S. Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm voiced unerring support for marshaling the powers of the federal government to ensure steady domestic supplies of critical minerals, including lithium and cobalt.
Granholm, a former governor of a state legendary for its auto industry, said at her Jan. 27 Senate confirmation hearing that she was "enthusiastically supportive" of policy efforts geared toward boosting U.S. mining of materials integral to national security, including those used to produce lithium-ion batteries. Her words echoed a national policy first set forth under the Trump administration then enacted by Congress to bolster domestic supplies of minerals in order to combat foreign influence over supply chains.
"If we are to build the supply chain for batteries, as one example, if we allow for China to corner the market on lithium or for the Democratic Republic of Congo to be the place where everyone gets cobalt when there may be child labor or human rights violations associated with that supply, then we are missing a massive opportunity for our own security but also for a market for own our trading partners that also may want to have access to minerals that are produced in a responsible way," Granholm told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Biden is well-positioned during his presidency to oversee industry growth in the U.S. mining space amid a push for green technology even though he was mum on the issue during his 2020 political campaign. Two U.S. Department of Energy clean energy loan programs were expanded in the final weeks of the Trump presidency to finance mining projects and the development of assets in the midstream of the battery supply chain. Executive actions on climate that were enacted in his first days in office targeted curtailing fossil fuel leasing, production, and emissions, with little mention of a halt on processing mine plans, except for a short-term pause on approvals as part of a larger regulatory stoppage.
Asked for her stance on a specific mineral issue — carrying out a federal uranium reserve recently established by Congress — Granholm said she "certainly would abide by the direction of Congress." However, she then pivoted to discuss battery metals, assuring lawmakers she would "work with folks on all sides of the aisle to make sure the U.S. has its own critical supply."
"I think these minerals can be mined in a responsible way, in a way that respects the environment, but it also serves to shore up our ability to produce products like batteries for markets internationally and we don't want to be under the thumb of China or other countries that may have as their geopolitical strategic interest to corner the market on critical minerals," Granholm said.