Will Maine’s antimine laws keep the necessary minerals underground?

The Biden administration is waking up to the growing demand for minerals and metals driven by the transition of Western nations to new energy technologies. Now, events in the state of Maine make them aware of the challenges posed by state and local governments.

A years-long battle over a proposed copper and zinc mine in Maine led the state legislature in 2017 to adopt what activists boasted was the toughest anti-mining law in the country.

The law banned open pit mines larger than three acres. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental activist group that fought for the law, called it a “great victory for the Maine environment.”

That assessment needs to be reconsidered in the light of a new discovery. This summer, four years after the adoption of the Maine mine ban, what is considered to be the richest hard rock lithium deposit in the world was unveiled – in Maine.

The 11 tons of lithium ore found on private land in Oxford County has been called among the cleanest in the world, with some crystals measuring more than 30 feet long.

It’s a rare find of staggering value, estimated at $ 1.5 billion in current prices. And lithium prices have been rising steadily for a year as the demand for lithium-based batteries has risen.

The owners of the property hope to be able to extract the deposit, but “we know the mining laws in Maine are such that there is not a single active mine in Maine,” Mary Freeman, co-owner of the land, told The Maine Monitor, which broke out. the story of the find.

The discovery of one of the world’s richest lithium deposits in Maine has created a conflict for environmental activists.

These are two competing priorities. One is to protect local soil and water from any adverse effects of mining. The second is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by speeding up the transition to electric cars. The International Energy Agency expects global demand for lithium to increase 40 times in 2040 driven by the EV revolution:

Maine’s law was focused on protecting Maine’s land and water from damage caused by mining. This is in direct conflict with the Biden administration’s plan to increase domestic lithium production, which requires more domestic mining.

Lithium-based batteries “enable the electrification of the transportation sector and provide stationary grid conservation, which is crucial for the development of clean energy economy,” wrote US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in the administration’s National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, published in June.

In order to establish an “urgent” need for a secure domestic supply chain for lithium batteries, the plan sets as its first priority the development of a “domestic industrial base for lithium-based batteries” in part by ensuring “access to a reliable supply of raw, refined and processed material input. “

Solar panels are made with aluminum, copper, nickel, silica, steel and zinc, all of which are obtained through mining.

Lithium-based batteries, which are used in electric vehicles and for storing energy created by solar panels, also require mining.

Wind turbines and the towers that hold them are mostly made of steel, but also require significant amounts of aluminum, copper, and rare earth minerals.

Any transition away from fossil fuels requires the use of mining materials. State and local regulations restricting mining will necessarily limit domestic wind and solar energy production, as well as advances in battery storage technology.

Will NIMBY (not in my backyard) activism trump the fear of climate change? The Maine legislator’s response to the discovery of the lithium deposit will provide an indication of how these tensions will unfold in the next few years.


Andrew Cline is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank in New Hampshire. This column was provided by InsideSources.

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