Lithium, rare earth production could provide jobs for coal miners, US energy secretary says

The United States’ transition to new energy will require increased domestic mineral production, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Tuesday March 9.

“Many parts of the country are sitting on top of the materials that we need to produce battery technologies,” Granholm said during a webinar hosted by renewable advocacy group Securing America’s Future Energy.

Granholm said that there would be “huge demand” for sustainable mineral supply chains in the US, both to serve the US electric vehicle (EV) industry and to provide jobs for coal miners who may be affected by falling demand for fossil fuels.

“Having [coal workers] mine for critical materials is a natural shift for them,” Granholm said.

Granholm’s statement underlined growing US policy support for domestic critical mineral production, which has continued despite the recent change in administration.

US President Joe Biden’s executive order to strengthen American manufacturing, which he signed during his first week in office in January 2021, is expected to have a direct effect on demand for US-produced raw materials.

“American manufacturing […] must be part of the engine of American prosperity now,” Biden said. “We’ll buy American products and support American jobs.”

The US is currently reliant on imported lithium, cobalt and rare earths for use in EVs, even as those vehicles become increasingly crucial to the government’s new energy program.

In a meeting with automotive manufacturers and labor leaders in February, US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg restated the need for “transformative investments” to create jobs in the automotive sector while moving to a new energy economy.

And the US Energy Department in March said it would reopen a clean energy loan program with more than $40 billion on offer.

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