WASHINGTON — President Biden took steps on Thursday to try to increase domestic production of critical minerals and metals needed for advanced technologies like electric vehicles, in an attempt to reduce America’s reliance on foreign suppliers.
Mr. Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, a move that will give the government more avenues to provide support for the mining, processing and recycling of critical materials, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese. Those are used to make large-capacity batteries for electric cars and clean-energy storage systems. Yet except for a handful of mines and facilities, they are almost exclusively produced outside the United States.
“We need to end our long-term reliance on China and other countries for inputs that will power the future,” Mr. Biden said during remarks at the White House, where he also announced the release of one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Defense Production Act is a Cold War-era statute that gives the president access to funding and other enhanced powers to shore up the American industrial base and ensure the private sector has the necessary resources to defend national security and face emergencies.
In a determination issued Thursday, the president said that the United States depended on “unreliable foreign sources” for many materials necessary for transitioning to the use of clean energy, and that demand for such materials was projected to increase exponentially.
Mr. Biden directed his secretary of defense to bolster the critical mineral supply by supporting feasibility studies for new projects, encouraging waste reclamation at existing sites, and modernizing or increasing production at domestic mines for lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and other so-called critical minerals.
The secretary of defense would also conduct a survey of the domestic industrial base for critical minerals and submit that to the president and Congress, the presidential determination said.
A person familiar with the matter said the actions being contemplated wouldn’t be loans or direct purchases of minerals, but rather funding studies and the expansion or modernization of new and existing sites.
The administration will also review potential further uses of the act in relation to the energy sector, according to a White House announcement on Thursday.
The United States imported more than half its supply of at least 46 minerals in 2020, and all of its supply of 17 of them, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Many of the materials come from China, which leads the world in lithium ion battery manufacturing and has been known to shut off exports of certain products in times of political tensions, including rare earth minerals.
The Biden administration has warned that a dependence on foreign materials poses a threat to America’s security, and promised to expand domestic supplies of semiconductors, batteries and pharmaceuticals, among other goods. While the United States does have some unexplored deposits of nickel, cobalt and other crucial minerals and metals, developing mines and processing sites can take many years. Two-thirds of the world’s entire production of cobalt is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Chinese companies owned or financed 15 of the 19 largest mines as of 2020.
But bipartisan support for expanding American mining and processing of battery components has grown in recent years. In a March 11 letter to Mr. Biden, senators including Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, and Joe Manchin III, a Democrat of West Virginia, proposed invoking the Defense Production Act to accelerate domestic production of the components of lithium-ion battery materials, particularly graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel and lithium.
Todd M. Malan, the head of climate strategy for Talon Metals, which is developing a nickel mine in Minnesota, said Washington had reached a bipartisan consensus around providing more support for the domestic mining of electric vehicle battery minerals “driven by concern about reliance on Russia and China for battery materials as well as the energy transition imperative.”
But some domestic developments may face opposition from environmentalists in Mr. Biden’s own party.
Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that mining companies were “making opportunistic pleas to advance a decades-old mining agenda that lets polluters off the hook and leaves Americans suffering the consequences.”
“Fast-tracking mining under antiquated standards that put our public health, wilderness, and sacred sites at risk of permanent damage just isn’t the answer,” he added.
Dionne Searcey contributed reporting.