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Will the U.S. Be Left Behind on Critical Minerals?

The U.S. failure to ratify the U.N.’s Law of the Sea treaty may allow other countries to get ahead of us in seabed mining, according to POLITICO.

What’s going on: “The European Union and 167 countries are working out rules this month governing the mining of deep-sea deposits, some of the richest sources of manganese, cobalt, copper and nickel that are ingredients in solar panels, wind turbines and electric-vehicle batteries.”

  • “But the U.S. can’t take advantage of them because it’s never had enough political support to ratify the U.N.’s Convention on the Law [UNCLOS] of the Sea, which governs the use of ocean resources.”

Why it matters: If other countries gain access to these minerals first, U.S. reliance on them will only deepen, because deep-sea mining companies must be headquartered in nations that are party to the accord.

  • The Metals Co. CEO Gerard Barron, whose Canadian company advocates for more seabed exploration, told POLITICO that the U.S. is “missing an opportunity.”
  • A single area between Hawaii and Mexico has in it more copper, cobalt, manganese and nickel “than is known in all land deposits combined,” which could be sufficient to create more than 250 million electric-vehicle batteries, according to The Metals Co.

What it will mean for us: Wilson Center Vice President Duncan Wood told POLITICO, “It’s a fundamental weakness that the U.S. will just have to sit by and watch other countries scoop up critical resources.”

  • In addition, issuing permits outside the framework of UNCLOS “could undermine America’s efforts to get adversarial nations like China and Russia to conform to a rules-based system on other issues, companies point out,” according to the article.

However: Declining to sign doesn’t mean the U.S. can’t at least process critical minerals.

  • “Battery processing is something the Biden administration says it’s prioritizing through executive actions and provisions in the infrastructure law under the umbrella of clean energy jobs and a manufacturing rebirth.”
  • “And it’s an attempt to reduce dependence on China, which dominates raw material refining and battery manufacturing, as the nation looks inward due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The NAM’s take: “Manufacturers in the U.S. are building a brighter tomorrow—one that relies on minerals like never before,” said NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy Rachel Jones.

  • “If the last few months and years have taught us anything, it is the importance of increasing domestic production of energy, mineral and other natural resources. So we can’t afford to ignore the shared riches our vast oceans store.”
  • “In a future increasingly powered by critical minerals, the U.S. could be a global leader in both production and processing—if policymakers wake up and take action.”
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