Mining 'The Green New Deal'

Mining 'The Green New Deal'
AP Photo/Mead Gruver, File

The Green New Deal resolution declares that fighting climate change requires “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II.” The architects of this most ambitious of plans – now endorsed by many Democratic Party presidential candidates – want to completely transform the way in which the nation produces and consumes energy in just a decade.

Regardless of one’s views of the wisdom, practicality or effectiveness of such an effort – all dynamics worthy of robust debate – it’s one thing to call for a WWII-scale mobilization but a far different task to understand the breadth of that historic mobilization and the engines that propelled it.

Glaringly absent, at least so far, from the Green New Deal conversation is any mention of the supply chains needed to support this massive industrial effort. And make no mistake, a massive industrial effort is precisely what would be necessary. Wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, grid-scale lithium-ion batteries and a new electricity grid are machines and commodities that require immense manufacturing capacity and a vast variety and quantity of raw material.

If these energy technologies are to be the ships, tanks and planes of this modern mobilization, consider what the American home front achieved during the war years. Author Victor Davis Hanson, writing on mobilization during WWII, observed that “American war production proved astonishing. At the huge Willow Run plant in Michigan, the Greatest Generation turned out a B-24 heavy bomber every hour. A single shipyard could mass-produce an ocean-going Liberty merchant ship from scratch in a week.”

At scale, this meant American industry provided almost two-thirds of all the Allied military equipment produced during the war. American factories produced 297,000 aircraft, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks and two million army trucks. In just a four-year period, America’s industrial production, already the world's largest, doubled. No other country, ally or enemy, came close to equaling this effort.

America became a factory. Notably, U.S. resource self-sufficiency drove the engine of production. While oil, natural gas and coal proved essential to the effort, U.S. hardrock mines provided the critical minerals and metals needed for the dizzying array of materials required by the machines of war. America’s vast natural resources and our robust mining industries became the foundation upon which the mobilization could happen.

Today, the U.S. hardrock mining industry – absolutely essential to any green energy mobilization – is a shadow of the behemoth it once was. America’s vast mineral wealth still exists but hardrock mining has been the victim of adversarial policy that has pushed mining investment and production elsewhere. While complete self-sufficiency in this era of global interconnectedness is unnecessary, U.S. mineral import reliance is spiraling out of control, doubling over the past two decades.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. is now 100 percent import reliant for 18 essential minerals and 50 percent or more import reliant for another 30. Our strategic competitor China controls the production and processing of an alarming number. And in turn, China controls the manufacturing of technologies – be they solar panels or lithium-ion batteries – that depend on them. Of the 70 major lithium-ion battery factories now in operation or under development around the world, 46 are located or planned in China; just five are planned for the U.S.

If the U.S. does not get its industrial policy in order, our potential American Green New Deal could well become China’s Green New Deal. It would be a stimulus not for the American industrial heartland and American workers but rather for the citizens of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

The World Bank projects that demand for the key minerals needed for green technologies could jump 1,000% or more under scenarios with aggressive action to accelerate green energy deployment. A Green New Deal is such a scenario on steroids. That kind of overnight growth in demand won’t be easily met by the world’s mines. It often takes 10 years to bring a mine into production. In the U.S., thanks to a duplicative and cumbersome permitting process, it often takes 10 years just to gain the permits required to open a new mine. That must change – or our economy and national security will be left in the dust

If the U.S. is to shift to a war footing to build the weapons of the climate fight, we need an industrial policy that builds from the ground up. A mines-to-megawatts effort must be at the forefront of any mobilization. Right now, it’s disturbingly not even on the radar.

John Adams, U.S. Army Brigadier General (Retired), is President of Guardian Six Consulting and a former Deputy U.S. Military Representative to NATO’s Military Committee. He is a national security advisor and writer on national security and defense issues, and was the lead author for the 2013 study on the U.S. defense industrial base, Remaking American Security.

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