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U.S. 'falling behind' in global race to develop electric vehicle supply chain

By Ernest Scheyder
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U.S. 'falling behind' in global race to develop electric vehicle supply chain

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the open pit mine is seen during a tour of Molycorp's Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, California

By Ernest Scheyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is losing the race to extract and refine minerals used to make electric vehicles and should do more to spur domestic production, a bipartisan group of senators said on Tuesday.

The push comes as China has grown to dominate the market for lithium, rare earths, cobalt and other so-called strategic minerals used to make a plethora of consumer products, a dominance that politicians have said poses a strategic threat to the United States.

The Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a Tuesday hearing in part to keep the topic fresh in the national dialogue even as attention begins to lurch toward the 2020 presidential campaign.

"China is consolidating control of the entire supply chain for clean technologies," Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaskan Republican who is the chair of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said. "The United States is falling behind ... and allowing that to happening is a strategic mistake."

The comments have become a kind of refrain for Murkowski, who so far this year has used her position as chair of the powerful committee to clamor for more attention to the topic.[nL2N22Q0ID

Both Republican and Democratic committee members said they saw mining as crucial in order to deploy more solar, wind and other renewable technologies.

A typical wind turbine, for example, contains nearly 5 tons of copper, according to the National Mining Association.

"If we don't start embracing this technology and growing with it, we are going to be left behind," said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat of Nevada, the largest mining state.

Senators also said they preferred mining be done domestically given U.S. environmental laws, rather than in places with lower standards such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"Let me be clear: I support mining, but I believe we need to be doing it responsibly," said Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.

The two-hour hearing did not review any legislation, though several committee members have introduced bills to streamline mine permitting.

In an interview after the hearing, Murkowski said she has not talked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about when her bill would receive a full vote, though she is not worried it will ultimately pass.

"Legislation works slowly here," Murkowski said. "I don't think the delay is being taken as a signal that we don't have a policy."

President Donald Trump in 2017 signed an executive order requiring a study of strategic minerals.




(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Marguerita Choy)