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Biden's First Steps on Energy Policies - Gökberk Bilgin

On January 20, Joesph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America. After the inauguration ceremony, the new US president began working on reverting the policies of his predecessor. In the first hours of the office, Biden signed executive orders on rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and canceling the Keystone XL pipeline project.

With rejoining to the Paris Climate Agreement, the new administration gave a signal on recognizing the climate threat and working with collaboration on providing solutions to the issue. However, they will be able to make an actual difference by following a strict action plan in the future. The director of Payne Institute, Morgan Bazilian, claims that the policy will create only diplomatic benefits in the short term. The implementation of decarbonizing US power generation by 2035 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 will require a massive paradigm shift in the American government, economy, and community. At this point, Biden's $2 trillion recovery plan on climate and economy will take a crucial role. The plan focuses on investments in accelerating clean energy usage in transportation, electricity, and building sectors while providing economic opportunities. To achieve this goal, Biden nominated Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, as the energy secretary. Granholm is known for her close ties with energy and chemical firms and her ambition for electric and autonomous cars.

Biden signed another executive order on energy issues by canceling the Keystone XL pipeline project permit, which aimed to carry 800,000 barrels of oil sands crude from Alberta to the United States. The environmentalists criticized the pipeline for contributing to global warming by helping the oil sands sector to develop. The Canadian government did not enjoy the decision and focused on the importance of collaboration in energy security and economics. While the operating company still hopes to review the decision, farmers in the area are also frustrated. According to Global News, if the oil companies use trains to send their product, it will create congestion in the railroads, which will impact the agricultural sector. Finally, the industry's loss of jobs creates an additional economic burden in the region, which is not desired by any government, especially during the Covid pandemic.

Despite the huge ambitions on shifting the energy to green products, the Biden administration will need earth materials to achieve its goals. On this matter, lithium and rare earth materials will have a crucial role. Today, we use lithium for rechargeable batteries found in electronics, and developments in these technologies make the metals highly valuable.

Nowadays, much of the lithium is provided from Australia and South America, where it gets heavy investments from Chinese companies. In such areas, countries began competing for the mines. Therefore, investing in American mines might reduce the price of the materials for the American companies. However, although the end goal is to slow down our climate damage, these mines cannot be considered friendly to the environment. Lithium mines have adverse effects on water and soil. Since it requires huge amounts of water, it depletes water sources, and hazardous gases damage the soil. A Chilean biologist, Cristina Dorador, claims that we are fooling ourselves if we call this sustainable and green mining because lithium mining directly damaging salt flats, the ecosystem, and local communities.

The nominated energy secretary Jennifer Granholm has investments in many renewable energy companies. According to Fox Business, Granholm holds shares in solar energy, chemical companies that provide lithium for electric vehicles and batteries, and Proterra. This Silicon Valley-based company designs and manufactures electric bus and battery systems. Granholm will terminate these investments when she begins the duty and will use her experience for the American energy transition.

Aside from lithium, other rare earth materials will play a critical role in the energy transition. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, Dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium, and yttrium, consist of many renewable energy hardware components. Currently, the largest reserves of such elements are located in China, and the working conditions in these areas are not suitable for the American standards. At some point in the future, importing these goods from China might play an important role in the climate policy.

As a result, the American government intends to begin a new era of energy and climate policies. However, the road will be filled with full of challenges. The cooperation of China and the United States may play a vital role in achieving these goals, yet the conflicts can postpone for decades. Do I think that the Biden administration will be successful? Well, I do not know. As Greta Thunberg said, time will tell.


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