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CERAWeek 2022: US Senators Murkowski, Manchin assail Biden administration’s confused stance on minerals and energy policies

12 March 2022 Amena Saiyid

Two US senators took aim at the Biden administration for not tapping into the nation's abundant mineral resources at the final day of CERAWeek 2022 by S&P Global meeting and instead relying on China to fuel its clean energy revolution.

"Let's acknowledge that we have resources available to us. Let's focus on that," Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, said during her dialogue with S&P Global Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin.

If the US is to transition to renewable energy future, a cleaner energy future, then Murkowsi said it has to tap into its domestic reserves.

The US is lagging behind in production of at least four minerals—copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium—that are essential for clean energy technologies. Lengthy mine permitting times as well as supply disruptions are affecting the timetables for renewable energy installations. Copper executives warned that they don't have enough inventory to meet the net-zero goals of countries.

'Mixed signals'

Calling the White House policies "incoherent," Murkowski said Biden is sending "mixed signals" about its plans to boost domestic sources of minerals that are needed to build electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, and other clean energy technologies.

They are saying "the right things," but then their actions run counter to their public statements, she said.

As an example, she pointed to the US Department of Interior's decision to reconsider the final approval given in July 2020 to the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road Project. The Ambler Road project would provide the access needed to responsibly develop a number of high-grade mineral deposits—including copper, cobalt, zinc, silver, and gold—in northwest Alaska, according to Murkowski's website.

The Alaskan senator said the right-of-way across federal land was guaranteed by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in the 1980s.

"These are our assets," Murkowski said, "and we cannot afford not to pay attention to them."

Manchin plugs for hydrogen

Also speaking at CERAWeek on 11 March was Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, who didn't dwell too much on the minerals issue other than to raise his objections to the administration's reliance on electric vehicles that are dependent on supply chains that are controlled by China.

Instead, he made a plug for blue hydrogen, or hydrogen that is produced from the steam reformation process of natural gas that is matched with carbon capture and storage technology.

West Virginia is flush with natural gas as it sits atop the Marcellus Shale formation.

"I'm a big hydrogen person, because I don't have to depend on a foreign supply chain to produce the horsepower we need in a carbon-free society as we move into [energy] transition," Manchin said, echoing the remarks that many oil and gas executives made over the five-day conference.

During his keynote address delivered on the opening day of 2022 CERAWeek meeting, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods also threw his support behind blue hydrogen, saying it would play an important role in the energy transition.

Manchin's remarks were repeatedly interrupted with rounds of applause from the assembled crowd of energy and mining executives at CERAWeek, especially when he criticized the White House's initial plan to include $80 billion for electric charging stations in the Build Back Better plan, which got stalled because the Democrats could not persuade Manchin or any other Republican to support it.

"I remember Henry Ford building the Ford T model. I sure as hell don't remember the United States government building the filling stations. The market did that," he quipped.

Earlier in the week, US Secretary for Energy Jennifer Granholm counseled patience to the assembled CERAWeek audience, saying the energy transition will take time.

Acknowledging that Asia has cornered the market on supply chains for minerals that are critically needed for energy transition, Granholm emphasized that "we need to have a full supply chain here."

She also recognized that the length of permitting and extraction in general, saying "these issues need to be resolved."

"How crazy is that?" Granholm said about the time it takes to get a permit for geothermal mines, which also have been identified as sources of lithium in California's Salton Sea.

Oil from adversaries

She said the Biden administration remains serious about decarbonizing, "while providing reliable energy that doesn't depend on foreign adversaries."

However, both Manchin and Murkowski criticized the Biden administration for not developing domestic oil and gas resources, as were many of the oil and gas producers who spoke earlier in the week at CERAWeek.

John Hess, CEO of US oil and gas producer Hess Corporation, said US focus should now be on energy security, as the global oil market was already tight going into the Ukraine crisis.

Calling the tightening market an energy "emergency," Hess said that the US and other nations should arrange for releases of 120 million barrels of oil from international reserves this month and commit to another 120 million barrels next month instead of the 60 million barrels that have been released.

As an "energy rich nation," Murkowski rued that the White House has been exclusively focused on climate policy at the expense of a national energy policy.

"I don't believe they have to be mutually exclusive," she said.

Posted 12 March 2022 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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