Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley confronted a Biden official during a hearing Thursday over the administration’s decision to block mineral mining.
Jaelith Hall-Rivera, the deputy chief of state and private forestry at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources when Hawley began questioning her about the Biden administration’s decision to prohibit mineral mining on nearly a quarter of a million acres in Minnesota. The administration’s move came after a 16-month review by the Department of Interior, which concluded that the land should be protected for 20 years. The study found that mining for minerals contaminated nearby waters.
Hawley began by establishing agreement with Hall-Rivera that critical minerals are essential to U.S. energy security before noting that research indicates demand for cobalt, nickel and lithium are expected to skyrocket over the coming decades. (RELATED: Biden Admin Blocks Major Mining Project Days After Signing Deal With Child Labor Hotbeds For Rare Metals)
“Here’s the thing that worries me, one nation in the world is currently refining 68 percent of the world’s nickel. Would you care to take a guess who might be?” Hawley asked.
“I would presume China,” Hall-Rivera responded.
“It is China,” Hawley said. “One nation is refining 40 percent of the world’s copper. Want to guess who that is?”
“I would presume the same,” the administration official answered.
“It’s China! One nation has 59 percent of the lithium and 73 percent of the cobalt. Want to guess?” Hawley pressed.
“I’m gonna say it’s China,” Hall-Rivera said.
“It is China, so given that, would you agree with me that it’s important that we do everything we can to develop our domestic critical mineral mining here in this country?” the Missouri senator asked.
“Yes, I would agree with that,” Hall-Rivera responded.
“Great, okay, then let me ask you about the Superior National Forest in Minnesota,” Hawley continued. “Earlier this year, partly at the behest of the forest service, the Biden administration withdrew 225,000 acres of critical mineral mining in northeastern Minnesota. This is the largest reserve of cobalt and nickel in the United States, perhaps I’m told, maybe even in the world. And yet, your administration shut it down. Your agency recommended that it be shut down, depriving us of these minerals, making us dependent on other nations that mine them in a completely unsafe and unsustainable way and also making us more dependent on these foreign nations. Why?”
“I do want to say I am not an expert on that process, that’s not a part of the forest service that I oversee,” Hall-Rivera answered. “I know we have a lot of values to balance there especially with the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, but I’m sure that we could get back to you with more details on the specifics of that decision.”
“I would really appreciate it, because here’s my view: My view is we shouldn’t be making China richer and America poorer. My view is we have the best technology in the world to mine and develop these minerals. We know how to do it in a safe and responsible manner, we should be doing it,” Hawley said.
“Why would we want to tie our own hands and make us and the world more dependent on China, who’ve got to be the worst environmental — have the worst environmental record of any nation in the world? … So I just don’t get it,” he added.
The Biden administration has canceled multiple mining projects while prioritizing a transition to green energy, which requires mining critical minerals and metals. Copper, nickel and lithium are crucial to manufacturing renewable technologies, according to an International Energy Agency report.