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COLUMN: Mining sector could benefit from US green legislation: Hughes

U.S. new green energy legislation could be a boon for Canadian mining sector says Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP

The Biden Administration in the U.S. just recently passed its landmark Inflation Reduction Act, an important piece of legislation as our neighbours to the south continue to feel the pinch of inflation that has gripped the world, much like Canada.

However, one of the most important parts of this legislation, and the part that will actually be of significant interest to people across Northern Ontario is how much the administration is investing in green energy, and how this will be a significant boon to the mining industry across the region and throughout the country.

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the U.S. has earmarked $369 billion in climate and energy provisions to transition the U.S. economy further towards green, sustainable energy.

The goal, at least regarding the investments in clean energy adaptation, is to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The bill represents the U.S. Government’s greatest investment in green energy in history, and includes the development and increased production of electric vehicles, expanding wind and solar energy, and building the technology to further reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

The U.S. will need more minerals to build this expanded transition to a greener energy economy, such as nickel, copper, cobalt, and lithium.

This means that the U.S. will need to rely on its trading partners to help develop this transition, and given Canada, and Northern Ontario in particular, have the minerals they need, we may see a significant boom in our mining industry in years to come.

But this will require substantial investments in mining, infrastructure such as roads and highways, and the supply chain in general which will require federal leadership.

Many in the mining industry seem very optimistic about the legislation, with Pierre Gratton, President of the Mining Association of Canada, stating in an article for the Hill Times that the “ambition is great, the attention is great, the pressure is great, but the challenge is enormous.”

Further noting that, just to meet the demand for nickel alone, Canada would need to develop another eight nickel mines over the next ten years. A challenge, to be certain, but one that can see tremendous growth in the mining industry. It would create good-paying union jobs and attract significant financial investments.

Attempting to transition towards a green economy is not without its own set of concerns, particularly when we are talking about increasing mining activity. We must ensure that mining is done sustainably and that environmental standards are maintained. To trade one environmental concern for another is not the appropriate way forward.

Conversations around a “just transition” have concerned some, given that this has often meant shuttering carbon-intensive industries, such as coal. The Liberals have promised just transition legislation since 2019, but have yet to table anything on this front, despite the clear need. 

Appropriate just transition legislation must put energy workers first, ensuring that they are able to receive the supports they need to work in a green energy economy. 

In April, the Environment Commissioner noted that the federal government failed to adequately support more than 170,000 fossil fuel workers' transition to the green economy. So, it’s clear we must work to protect those workers in the energy sector by providing opportunities for re-training and job placement services, ensuring companies retain and redeploy their workers when in transition, and guaranteeing that workers nearing retirement have the security they have worked their whole lives for.

Workers need to be the priority during this transition, and if done correctly, they can be key in shaping a green economy with good-paying jobs in mining and energy development, but the federal government needs to show leadership on this front to ease workers’ legitimate concerns.

Mining can be a vital industry in the fight against climate change, but we need to see how the Federal government intends to help facilitate that transition. And it needs to be done far sooner than later, as we can’t have the demand for metals outstrip the supply. 

- Elliot Lake Today