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On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that he was issuing a directive to use the Defense Production Act to boost the production and processing of critical minerals and other materials such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese. These are substances needed to make batteries, which can in turn power electric vehicles and store renewable energy. This will also allow for other industries to advance corresponding tools and technologies that will decrease the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, the president said in an address to the public. 

To accomplish this, Biden directed the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, to fund feasibility studies for new projects, decrease waste at existing sites, and modernize domestic mines so they can amp up production of critical minerals, The New York Times reported. 

The president can use the Defense Production Act of 1950 to speedily expand the supply of essential materials and services for domestic industries to promote national defense. Civil transportation and energy are only two of the areas that are covered under this act. The act was originally passed in response to the Korean War by the Truman administration, and was later used during the Cold War. Last year, Biden also used the DPA to bolster the health supply chain for COVID vaccines, testing, and protective equipment. 

“Through the DPA, the President can, among other activities, prioritize government contracts for goods and services over competing customers, and offer incentives within the domestic market to enhance the production and supply of critical materials and technologies when necessary for national defense,” according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. “The DPA has been amended and reauthorized numerous times since its original enactment.” 

[Related: Biden’s EV plan aims to build charging stations along interstate highways]

The directive is one part of the Biden administration’s larger plan to respond to the increase in oil prices as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine. According to a fact sheet published by the White House, “the president is also reviewing potential further uses of DPA – in addition to minerals and materials – to secure safer, cleaner, and more resilient energy for America.” It also noted that the administration will consult with environmental, labor, community, and tribal standards on this effort. 

This new plan, at its core, covers not only domestic production, but energy efficiency for consumers and climate goals for the country at large. Biden has been pushing for a big transition to EVs, a clean energy grid, and greener infrastructure in the US since last year. 

And while increasing domestic mining might ease supply chain woes, the battery production process itself is very emission-intensive. Many experts argue that mining needs to be done in a more sustainable way, and incorporate effective, complementary recycling programs that keep as much of the materials in use as possible. 

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