Slow Permitting Process Could Undermine Biden’s Aim of Boosting Domestic Mining

Batteries are poised to play a major role in industries over the next decades amid global efforts to cut down reliance on fossil fuels and switch to sustainable energy. In plenty of countries, this involves steadily replacing conventional gasoline-powered cars with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) that are powered by lithium-ion battery packs.

The efforts will also involve significant investment in stationary power-storage solutions that will be used to store power during off peak hours before releasing it back into the grid during peak consumption hours.

However, a significant chunk of battery metals are processed in Asia, more specifically China, and the Biden administration is keen on changing this. As it stands, most industries that involve electronics source their batteries from Chinese companies, including major automakers such as Tesla and Ford Motors.

Intent on increasing the local supply of battery minerals, the Biden administration has began approving new mines on federal land. However, the administration will have to contend with a few challenges as it seeks to open expensive, high-profile mining projects in the nation, chief of them being the slow permitting process.

Proposals such as the Twin Metals mine in Minnesota, a titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, and the Pebble Mine in Alaska have been sidelined or even halted. The federal government has also dragged its feet on approving smaller mining projects, with the Bureau of Land Management approving only 20 mines in the past two years.

In comparison to the last three years of the former administration, data from the Bureau of Land Management revealed that 21 new mines were approved in 2020 while 29 received approval in 2018. Furthermore, the data shows that mining approvals during the Trump era lagged compared to the number of mining projects that have thus far received approval during the Obama administration.

The number of applications to dig into federal land has also declined over the decade, with mining companies issuing fewer and fewer applications since 2011. According to the Bureau of Land Management, it received 72 applications in 2011 compared to only 32 applications in 2021.

Even though the U.S. is estimated to hold enormous reserves of EV battery metals, including cobalt, lithium, manganese, graphite and nickel, declining applications coupled with a slow permitting process could put a damper on President Biden’s goal of bolstering local supply. This process often involves lengthy federal environmental reviews, primarily if the prospective mines are located on federal lands near habitats of endangered species or other  protected natural spaces. As a result, the push to begin mining as soon as possible to mitigate climate change runs headlong into meticulous environmental protection laws.

With America transitioning to clean energy, the debate on whether laws meant to protect the environment will hamper efforts to switch to clean energy will only grow stronger while extraction companies such as Royal Gold Inc. (NASDAQ: RGLD) may have to make do with whatever regulations or policies are in force and applicable to their operations.

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