Murkowski's battery metal bump
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has a fresh ask for President Biden after her victory on the Willow oil venture: support for an Alaskan graphite mining project.
Why it matters: Mining is the resource business of the future energy economy. Alaska could play a role, but Murkowski says so far Biden isn't helping to make it happen.
- Graphite is a primary metal in EV batteries used for making anode material. The mineral is mostly mined and refined in China.
Driving the news: Murkowski told Jael she's lobbying the Biden team to help Graphite One, a company developing one of the nation’s few viable graphite mining projects.
- Murkowski wants the Pentagon to back the project under the Defense Production Act — which she hopes eventually means faster permitting — and is seeking Energy Department grants and loans.
Instead of supporting Graphite One, Murkowski said, the Biden administration has backed the U.S. using imported minerals.
- Murkowski pointed to the Energy Department’s decision to give $102.1 million to Syrah Resources for the expansion of a refinery in Louisiana.
- The refinery will get graphite from a region of Mozambique plagued by violence where mining can foster displacement and discontent sometimes exploited by extremist recruiters. (Jael exposed this last year.)
- “That doesn’t seem like an answer that makes a lot of sense,” Murkowski said of the decision to get graphite from a “very, very volatile” region.
Energy Department spokesman Ramzey Smith said the agency's Loan Programs Office "does not comment on applicants or the status of applications, as we consider that information confidential."
- On Syrah, Smith said DOE "conducts rigorous due diligence that includes market reviews and country risk evaluation among other items," and the agency "evaluates and structures loans in a manner to include potential mitigants to potential risks."
- The Pentagon said it couldn't immediately comment on Graphite One.
Between the lines: This push has politics similar to Willow, yet the EV angle might make it easier for Murkowski to notch another win.
- So far Biden has upset Republicans over his handling of Alaska mining potential, including vetoing the Pebble mine and scrutinizing the Ambler road.
- Backing Graphite One would signal that Alaska can progress beyond fossil fuels to EV metals.
- But it could come with a backlash, too — similar to how the Willow move was seen by some as nakedly political.
- "I think there is a political calculus for the White House to do what they did on Willow," Rep. Sean Casten told Axios. "There is no obvious policy calculus."
Reality check: Graphite One sits atop one of the largest graphite deposits in the world but is far from starting its environmental reviews.
- That’s due to many factors, including the costs of a mine in untouched Alaskan tundra and vocal local critics.
- The only other U.S. graphite mining potential is in Alabama — but it could disrupt areas that exemplify what people want climate action to protect.
- Graphite can be made without mining, but that requires fossil fuels.