Murkowski: Senate Missed Opportunity to Bolster U.S. Mineral Security during Debate on Partisan Reconciliation Bill

Amendment Would Have Facilitated Crucial Nickel and Cobalt Supplies

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released the following statement after the Senate failed to accept an amendment she offered over the weekend to the partisan budget reconciliation bill. The amendment would have facilitated the responsible development of domestic graphite and cobalt deposits, like those in the Ambler Mining District in northwest Alaska, but was not agreed by a party-line vote of 50-50.    

 “Any measure that allocates significant dollars for clean energy technologies must also place our nation’s mineral security front and center. Unfortunately, when I offered an amendment to boost domestic projects that would produce nickel and cobalt, which are crucial for electric vehicles and energy storage, my colleagues refused to acknowledge that we have a very real problem on our hands,” Murkowski said. “This was a chance to reduce our dependence on other nations for our supply of those strategic metals. I suspect my colleagues will wish they had accepted this amendment in the years ahead, but for now, it will go down as a missed opportunity.”

Murkowski’s amendment would have provided $400 million to the federal Bureau of Land Management to facilitate projects that develop domestic graphite and cobalt deposits. The amendment was fully offset and compliant with the Byrd Rule, which governs the budget reconciliation process.

The United States currently imports 76 percent of its supply of cobalt and 48 percent of its supply of nickel. The International Energy Agency has estimated that “cobalt and graphite may see 6- to 30-times higher demand than today [by 2040] depending on the direction of battery chemistry evolution.” The International Monetary Fund has similarly found that “Given the projected increase in metals consumption through 2050 under a net zero scenario, current production rates of graphite, cobalt, vanadium, and nickel appear inadequate, showing a more than two-thirds gap versus the demand.”

The growing mismatch between mineral supply and mineral demand could create global shortages that alter the balance of geopolitical power and hold back the adoption of new technologies, including those meant to address climate change.

One project that could have benefited from the adoption of Murkowski’s amendment is the Ambler Road project in Alaska. The project, which would provide access to a mining district with a number of high-grade mineral deposits, including copper, cobalt, zinc, silver, gold, and more, began permitting during the Obama administration and received final federal approval in July 2020. The Biden administration has since announced a court filing to reopen the previous Record of Decision, causing unnecessary delays that will serve mainly to prevent needed domestic mineral supplies from being developed.

In the absence of U.S. mineral production, automakers and others are having to look abroad for needed supplies. The latest such announcement ironically came on Monday, when Reuters reported that Tesla has signed contracts worth $5 billion for nickel supply from Indonesia, which is located more than 8,000 miles from the continental U.S. 

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