EPW Hearing Statement: Electric Battery Production and Waste: Opportunities and Challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held the hearing, “Electric Battery Production and Waste: Opportunities and Challenges.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“As the Chairman knows, I have been eager for our committee to foster a meaningful dialogue about the importance of recycling, so I would like to thank Chairman Barrasso for holding today’s hearing. It’s what I hope will be the first of many conversations about what our country can do to improve recycling education, infrastructure and producer responsibility. 

“Today, we will focus on two of my favorite issues – electric vehicles and recycling. I expect we’ll learn more today how investments in each of those areas can support the other. 

“Our country’s transportation sector is currently the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in America. We know that promoting zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, is one of the best ways we can modernize and clean up our transportation sector. More electric vehicles on our roads means cleaner air, a better climate and less reliance on dirty foreign oil. We also know that, while electric vehicles are already one of the cleanest vehicles available today, over time, they will only get cleaner as the power sector gets cleaner.

“I’m certainly not the only one who sees the vast environmental and economic benefits of cleaner cars. Cities across the country, and countries like China and Norway are investing significantly to transition to electric vehicles. Today, you can ask almost every car manufacturer where the global vehicle market is heading, and they will tell you that electric vehicles are the future.

“As the global market for electric vehicles grows, so will the demand for the raw materials needed to make the batteries that power them. The production of electric vehicle batteries – just like the production of smart phone batteries – requires critical minerals such as lithium and cobalt, many of which are not mined in the United States. Some of my colleagues believe we must eliminate or lower mining environmental standards to keep up with that increasing demand. I disagree, and I would remind those colleagues about the damage we’ve seen incurred by cutting corners in hardrock mining regulations. Local communities pay the price in environmental and health effects for generations. I am confident that the critical mineral mining industry can meet the new demands of market forces and produce more here at home without endangering human health and our environment. 

“Some of my colleagues will also say that we need to wait to make real investments in electric vehicles until we’ve made investments in domestic critical mineral mining. Well, that’s like saying we need every American to use a rotary phone until we mine more for cell phone batteries. It’s a logical fallacy, and it’s unrealistic.

“For our automakers to be competitive in the global market, we can no longer delay investments in electric vehicles in this country. Fortunately, more mining isn’t the only solution. Manufacturers are hard at work to create a more sustainable electric vehicle battery, one that needs fewer critical minerals. 

“And, of course, technology is rapidly evolving. Just as the cell phones we used five years ago are significantly different than the ones we use now, the kind of vehicle battery we use today will not be the same battery we use in five, 10 or 50 years. We don’t, however, need to wait for better battery technology to have a more sustainable electric vehicle battery. Using today’s technology, we can recycle critical minerals and other materials found in electric batteries that fuel our vehicles and gadgets.

“Electronic waste, or e-waste, was once destined for the landfill but can now live a new life as another product if recycled properly. In fact, critical minerals can be infinitely recycled without losing any of their properties. Battery recycling also reduces our need for new critical minerals, reduces the carbon footprint of an electric battery and creates economic opportunities through good-paying recycling jobs.

“China and the European Union have – or will soon have – laws in place that require automakers to take on the responsibility of recycling spent batteries. This incentivizes automakers to find a new purpose for these batteries and recover the minerals in them. Clearly, other countries are stepping up to the plate when it comes to investments in electric vehicle battery recycling – it’s time for the United States to get in the game.

“I look forward to hearing more about what the United States can do to ensure we reap the environmental and economic benefits of e-waste recycling, and how we can help to enhance recycling infrastructure and technology.

“Thank you again, and many thanks to the panel of witnesses before us today. I look forwarding to listening to your testimonies.”