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We must stop the reliance on foreign suppliers

Over the past few months, people have become acutely aware of the problems with relying on foreign countries for vital products. The global pandemic has demonstrated that America depends on foreign suppliers far too much for products vital to our health, from masks to testing swabs to pharmaceuticals.

America found out about this issue the hard way. Yet, in another sector of our economy that is vital to our national security — energy — America is about to plunge blindly into a similar reliance on foreign sources. Haven’t we learned our lesson?

We are simply too dependent on foreign countries, including rivals such as China, for critical materials necessary for developing clean energy. Yet many want to push America’s economy, from vehicles to electricity, to 100% “clean” in the coming decades.

Before we rush headfirst into transforming our economy into one that relies on electric vehicles and electricity from wind and solar, let’s consider the consequences. Unless America can develop more secure supply chains for a wide range of materials, we will put our economic and national security at risk.

Consider the ingredients in batteries for electric vehicles. According to Mining News, America is nearly 100% dependent on other nations for cobalt, lithium, and carbon anodes. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces more than 60% of the world’s cobalt. Yet, it is a very unstable country and has become notorious for environmental and labor abuses.

In 2018, researchers from Lund University in Sweden projected that by 2060, the demand for minerals for electric car batteries will increase by an astronomical 87,000%.

The same is true for solar panels. Key minerals such as silicon, arsenic, and gallium are primarily sourced from China and Russia. Wind turbines require rare earth elements that are mainly produced in China.

It’s not just a handful of materials, either. In May, the World Bank issued a report identifying 13 critical minerals whose production will have to increase exponentially to meet global demand.

Do we really want to be dependent on Russia, China, and the Congo for these resources?

So before we get too excited about doing away with traditional cars and trucks or electricity from coal, gas, and nuclear, let’s take a deep breath.

One option is to start extracting critical minerals domestically. However, environmentalist progressives refuse to allow this. They would rather destroy the land and water quality of other countries instead of safely developing American mining and manufacturing. We saw this happen when they successfully drove nearly all of the extraction and processing of rare earth metals to China. This is the height of hypocrisy.

The recent House Democratic climate proposal would mandate auto manufacturers to make only electric vehicles starting in 2035. While this may sound environmentally friendly, it takes 500,000 gallons of water to obtain 1 ton of lithium. Extracting lithium in Chile consumes 63% of all available water in the region, diverting it from consumers and farmers.

The Edison Electric Institute projects that by 2030, the United States could have nearly 19 million electric cars on the road. To provide for the amount of lithium in for each that is used in a Tesla battery, the U.S. would need approximately 1.3 million tons of lithium. Consider the amount of water needed for that.

America is about to confront a real global shortage of key materials.

So, if environmental groups prevent us from mining and manufacturing in America, and there are critical shortages developing, shouldn’t we consider alternatives?

What about an energy source that is efficient, never needs to be recharged, has zero emissions, and can operate 24/7? Shouldn’t we at least consider that? If so, the answer is hydrogen power. It’s already being used globally as an alternative energy source, and even domestically in projects such as the Santa Rita Jail Fuel Cell Power Plant in Alameda County, California.

While we should continue to make advances on electric vehicles and renewable energy, it is foolish to turn our back on fossil fuels and nuclear energy when they have demonstrated they can supply dependable, clean power. Projects such as NetPower and Petra Nova have shown carbon capture utilization and storage can work — and it will be developed in many more projects thanks to the 45Q tax incentive.

The United States must also develop the next generation of advanced nuclear plants that can provide dependable, clean energy.

The looming problem with the supply chain for critical minerals threatens our ability to further develop and rely on renewable energy. Wouldn’t it be novel for Congress to pursue clean energy sources without destroying an “all-of-the-above” energy approach?

The stresses COVID-19 has put on the supply chain for lifesaving drugs and personal protective equipment have shown we can’t rely on China and other foreign suppliers for critical needs. America should not make the same mistakes with clean energy.

(McKinley, of Ohio County, represents West Virginia’s First Congressional District in the House of Representatives. This commentary was published first in the Washington Examiner, last Tuesday.)

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