The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States last week could be one of the most significant pieces of legislation the Americans have passed related to Canadian manufacturing and mining in decades.
One of the provisions in the extensive bill introduces big tax credits for electric vehicles – but with the caveat that they have to be built or sourced within North America.
Likewise, battery materials are to be sourced from nations with which American has free-trade agreements.
If automakers bite, this could lead to one of the biggest re-shoring efforts ever, as auto and battery manufacturing, and mining of key minerals such as nickel, copper, and lithium, can come straight to Canada.
There are concerns with whether or not the new mining boom will cause its own environmental issues, not to mention the need to consult and work with Indigenous Canadians on their traditional lands. This can’t be another mining boom that comes in, takes as much as possible in the short term, and leaves behind damaged lands and ghost towns to the people who were there first, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
But concerns and complexities shouldn’t stop us from moving ahead.
The trade off for mining more of these minerals is that a lot less coal and oil comes out of the ground, now and in the future.
Coal mining and oil extraction are pretty destructive themselves, as you may have noticed if you have ever seen images of mountains levelled to get at coal, or at some of the grey, industrial landscapes left by oil sands extraction over the past decades.
Also remember there’s no way to recycle coal or oil. We just burn the vast majority of it. And despite advances in technology, it is not going to get that much cheaper. We got the easy-to-find, easy-to-access stuff already. It’s only deeper and harder to get from now on.
However, the copper, nickel, iron, lithium, and other minerals that power a renewable energy economy are recyclable.
Canada’s leaders need to get moving to take advantage of this economic and environmental opportunity, while minimizing any downsides. That means working with both environmentalists and First Nations from the start, along with mining firms, auto manufacturers, and major labour unions.
Canada has a potential for plants that will provide generations of jobs and create a cleaner, healthier atmosphere for everyone.
There will be an environmental impact. But there will be a lot less of an impact than mining and burning fossil fuels is having on our country and our world right now.