'Saudi Arabia of lithium': Biden, Newsom announce $35M investment in California mineral mining

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Whether it's in your cell phone, your laptop, or your electric vehicle, lithium batteries have become a ubiquitous component in modern technology. But one major challenge, according to the Biden administration? Nearly all of the world's lithium exports come not from the U.S. -- but from China.

Now, in an effort to ease the U.S.'s dependence on China for natural materials, like lithium, President Biden has announced millions in investments to begin mining for lithium in California.

"We can't build a future made in America if we ourselves are dependent on China for the materials that power the products of today and tomorrow," President Biden said on Tuesday during a roundtable about the investments.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom, who joined the President during the virtual event, said there's a bounty of the so-called "white gold" ready to be extracted in parts of the state.

"What we refer to as the Saudi Arabia of lithium down there in the Imperial Valley," Newsom said. "This extraordinary economic opportunity."

Areas that Biden and Newsom have pinpointed as opportunities for lithium mining include the Salton Sea and Imperial Valley.

Among the investments announced is $35 million in funding for MP Materials, a mining company that operates a facility in Mountain Pass, an unincorporated town in San Bernardino County. The company said they believe that with these investments, by 2025, they will be able to provide the material for 500,000 electric vehicles every year.

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For years, there have been plans to phase out gasoline-powered cars, but the effort picked up speed with Gov. Newsom's executive order calling for 100% of in-state sales of new cars and trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.



Gina McCarthy, the White House Domestic Climate advisor, said lithium is not only critical for phones and popular appliances, but the clean energy revolution, like wind turbines and electric vehicles. She said the U.S. reliance on China on these materials has become a national security issue and made it harder to work towards renewable energy.

"If we don't manufacture them in the U.S., if we don't process them and mine them, and put them into products we can use right here," McCarthy told ABC7 News, "Then we're going to be subject to escalating costs for critical materials that we need, and we'll need to go to other countries to source, and many of them are not our allies."

Both President Biden and Newsom believe the investments in lithium mining will be a win-win: making the U.S. more independent while creating new jobs, addressing the supply chain shortages and making it easier to move towards a clean energy future.

"This is a game changer in terms of our efforts to transition to low carbon, green growth and to radically change the way we consume energy," Newsom said.

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