By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
The push for renewable energy is ramping up demand for minerals, many of which China controls, and the Wyoming mining industry wants to get in on the action.
Eager to secure a domestic supply of critical minerals for solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, the federal government is providing loans to companies to help develop domestic supplies.
Now, China is investing in U.S. mining operations, which not only allows the communist nation to maintain global dominance of these critical minerals, it opens up opportunities to get loans from the federal government for their businesses.
American Military News reports that Lithium Americas, a Canadian-based company, has been winding through the federal permitting process for a lithium mine in the northern part of Nevada, which is home to the only lithium mine now operating in the United States.
The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that the largest shareholder of Lithium Americas is the Chinese mineral giant Ganfeng Lithium.
As is usual, the permitting process has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups, but now Republican lawmakers in Nevada, as well as a U.S. senator, are raising concerns about China being involved in the operation.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, sent a letter to the Department of Energy in September objecting to federal money going to the company, which Cotton said is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party.
“The letter addresses the significant risks to national security and our supply chain that would arise if federal funding were to deepen Chinese control over America’s critical minerals,” Cotton said in a release about the letter.
The prospect of Chinese ownership of mining operations in the U.S. also is a concern in Wyoming.
State Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River, said that lithium deposits are found in southwest Wyoming. They’re not currently recoverable economically, but that could change. Across the state, there’s potential to develop rare earth minerals, uranium, gold and copper.
“I think we need to develop our resources and provide an environment whereby we can foster companies to come in here and do that,” Hiner said. “But not companies that are owned by China.”
China controls 60% of the world’s lithium resources, which are used in batteries for electric vehicles among other uses. As more intermittent wind and solar resources are added to the grid, while coal-fired power plants are shut down, lithium will be needed for battery facilities to stabilize the electrical grid.
Without a domestic supply of the mineral, the U.S. will be beholden to China for our energy.
“Why would we continue to let them control the supply here in the United States and Wyoming?” Heiner said.
Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming mining association, said he’s not aware of any Chinese or Russian companies involved in the Cowboy State’s mining operations. He cautioned against any blanket restrictions against foreign ownership of mining companies, as there are soda ash mines owned by Belgium and Turkey.
“I think China is a different animal,” Deti said. “As we start pursuing our plans of developing a rare earth industry and bolstering our uranium industry, I think it’s just something we really need to keep an eye on.”
Chinese ownership of mining companies is not just something that concerns American lawmakers. Earlier this month, Canada ordered three Chinese firms to divest from mining companies operating in the country over concerns that those investments undermine Canada’s national security.