South Court Auditorium
3:50 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Tom. Tom Conway, you going to say hi to me?
MR. CONWAY: Mr. President, how are you?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t seen you in such a long time.
MR. CONWAY: Oh, it’s been a while. You doing all right?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, you’re one of the only reasons I’m sitting in this chair. Thank you. (Laughter.)
Hi, everybody. How are you? Gavin, how are you, man?
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: (Inaudible) President.
THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: I’m good. I’m good. I had an over/under that you were going to do this today. I’m impressed.
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: I am impressed. Thank you for not canceling on us.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, are you kidding me? We don’t have much going on, you know, other than Russia and Ukraine and — anyway.
Should we start? I guess I’m starting, huh? I guess I already started. (Laughter.)
Good afternoon. I want to thank everybody joining us today virtually, including California’s outstanding governor, Gavin Newsom, who I went out to help with a recall and he won in spite of me — (laughter) — again. But — along with leaders from industry and labor and local communities, each of whom we’re going to hear from shortly. And, here at the White House, with Jennifer Granholm, our former governor and Energy Secretary; Gina McCarthy, our National Climate Advisor; and Kathleen Hicks, the Deputy Secretary of Defense.
And we’re here to make an announcement that sounds a little complex on the surface, but, really, it’s about something quite simple. It’s all about the belief we share that to build a truly strong economy, we need a future that’s made in America.
Almost exactly a year ago, I issued an executive order
to prioritize strengthening our domestic supply chains. Because what I found out was that, you know, if I was going to follow through on my commitment to say we were going to make it in America and build it America and have all of it built in America, we needed a supply chain that was — that was reliable. And — and including in critical materials like lithium, graphite, rare earth materials, which are badly needed for so many American products, but were so much in — we were in so desperate need of.
These minerals power phones and computers, household appliances, electric vehicles and batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and so much more.
Without these minerals, we simply cannot fun- — they can’t function. And we expect to — demand to — for them to increase by 400 to 600 percent over the next several decades.
And up to now, we’ve had to import a significant portion of them — close to 100 percent importation — from other countries, particularly China, Australia, and Chile. And when I signed the executive order last year, I was determined to change that.
And we’ve seen what happens when we become dependent on other countries for essential goods like computer chips — everyone has become aware of that, because the computer chips are so badly needed. Why do the cost of automobiles skyrocket and become about a third of the reason for the increase in inflation? It’s because they didn’t have the computer chips. You can’t build an automobile today without those chips. As well as personal protective equipment and so much more.
And when it comes to clean energy, China has spent years
cornering the market on many of the materials that power the technologies that we rely on. That’s why I committed us to build a clean energy supply chain stamped “Made in America.”
And “Made in America” means using products, parts, and materials, as well as minerals, right here that are in the United States of America, we get them. It means betting on American workers. And it takes a federal government that doesn’t just give up lip service to buying America but actually takes action.
My economic strategy — building from the bottom up and the middle out — is why in my first year as President we had the greatest year ever in job growth in American history: 6.6 million jobs. Faster economic growth in nearly — the fastest in nearly four decades. And that’s why America added 375 [thousand] manufacturing jobs last year — the highest increase in nearly 30 years.
And that’s why we’ve seen major announcements in recent weeks from companies like Intel, General Motors, Union Pacific Railroad, and more, building new facilities here in America, investing in American workers and buying American products and paying prevailing wages, Tom — prevailing wages, a union wage. They created tens of thousands of good-paying jobs in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee — all across the country.
And today, we’re announcing a new effort that’s going to help us, in my view, keep that drumbeat for good-paying jobs, strengthen our national and economic security, and ensure that we can continue to build a future that’s made in America in a way that lives up to our values.
So we’re announcing a major investment in domestic production of key minerals and materials.
Today, as I mentioned, China — China controls most of the global market in these minerals. And the fact that we can’t build a future that’s made in America if we ourselves are dependent on China for the materials that power the products of today and tomorrow. And this is not anti-China or anti anything else; it’s pro-American.
That’s why I’m taking action. Through the Department of Defense — and I have Deputy Secretary to my — there you go, I thought to my right; the governor is to my — the Deputy Secretary is here — we’re investing $35 million in MP Materials, currently America’s only rare earth mining and processing operation, to help create a fully domestic supply chain for the magnets that power electric vehicle motors, wind turbines, and so much more.
We know that when the federal government invests in innovation, it powers up the private sector to do what they do best. And that’s what we’re seeing happen.
MP Materials is announcing a $700 million investment
in the magnet supply chain, creating 350 good-paying jobs.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables is breaking ground for a new facility this spring in your state — I know Gavin knows more about this than I do, but he — in — in California to test the new process to pull lithium, which is used for batteries for phones, for cars from underground sources in California’s Imperial Valley in a way that’s environmentally sustainable.
And last week, Redwood Materials announced a partnership
with Ford and Volvo to recycle lithium-ion batteries so you’ll be able to produce more of those batteries, taking out the minerals and reprocessing them so they can be used to power electric vehicles, reducing the need for new mining.
And that’s just the beginning, in my view. These new investments are going to do more than create good-paying jobs. They’re also going to set America up to lead the world in building a clean energy economy and the clean energy future.
As we build the economy, we’re going to build around wor- — build it around working Americans. That means making sure that labor is at the table, that Tribes and the people from the community are at the table from day one, and that environmental protections are paramount.
We have to ensure that these resources actually benefit folks in the communities where they live, not just the shareholders. And that’s going to create good-paying union jobs, and that produces more sustainability.
You know, so — so we can avoid the historical injustices that too many mining operations left behind in American towns. I come from Scranton, Pennsylvania. It used to be an anthracite coal mine. And mining is mining is mining, but there’s all kinds of it. And that’s why we’re working to modernize America’s mining laws and regulations, some of which are 150 years old.
That’s why I’ve asked the Secretary of Energy, Governor Granholm — Senator [sic] Granholm — senator — Secretary Granholm — but you’re my governor, former governor — to visit the Imperial Valley in California and hear directly from local residents how this will impact on them.
I know everybody is excited about the opportunities ahead. So, with that, I’m — we’re going to hear from Jim Litinsky, CEO of MP Materials. And, Jim, let’s start with a question: What will the Defense Department’s $35 million investment allow you to do in your process?
MR. LITINSKY: Well, thank you, Mr. President. It’s an honor to be here today. This DOD investment delivers on your call to action of a year ago to restore America’s supply chains. So your investment will complement more than $700 million that MP will invest by 2024 to create an American rare earth magnetics supply chain. As you said, these magnets are essential to our economy and the clean energy transition.
So, my team is committed to bringing this supply chain home, and we are doing so with an operation that is a benchmark for innovation and environmental sustainability.
You know, we proudly operate in the state of California, under the very high standards that should make all Americans proud. You know, we founded this company five years ago. At the time, Mountain Pass was in care and maintenance with only eight employees. Many actually doubted that it could ever be restored, but we got to work and built a great company poised to become an American champion.
So, I hope that our story is a symbol of what is possible.
One thing I’ve learned, Mr. President, is that American manufacturing spirit is second to none when we all work together. But the truth is: Multi-billion-dollar supply chains do not move overnight. It’s going to require capital. It’s going to require perseverance. It’s going to require strong coordination between the upstream and the downstream. And most importantly, it’s going to require a true commitment from leadership across the board.
And, sir, convening this group today sends a powerful signal that is a catalyzing effect. So I want to thank you and your team. Thank you to the DOD. Thank you to Governor Newsom and everyone assembled here today.
I also want to recognize the 400 American heroes at MP who report to work every day with an unwavering commitment to see this mission through.
THE PRESIDENT: Jim, do me a favor, for listeners: Tell me a little bit about the process that you undertake to allow us to compete with China, for example, and other countries, in terms of providing access to this rare material. Rare — I mean, you know — what we’re looking for.
MR. LITINSKY: Yes. Well, sir, the good news is, we are currently the second-largest producer in the world. And we have — and this may be a little detailed for those who don’t know about mining, but we have a dry tailings process, and 95 percent of the water we utilize is recycled.
So that means that not only are we competing globally, but we are also doing so in a way that, you know, as I’ve said, all Americans can be proud of. We are — you know, I can say confidently we are the most environmentally friendly rare earth operation in the world.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I was told by our — my environmental guru here that — she pointed out to me that, by 2025, we’re going to be producing 500,000 electric vehicles per year. You’ll — you’ll be able to provide material for 500,000 electric vehicles per year. Is that right?
MR. LITINSKY: That’s right, sir. We’re — we announced GM as a foundational customer for a magnetics facility that we are building. And so, I think the really important thing here is we are investing across the board, end to end, exactly as you have called for, so that we can have actually every aspect of this supply chain in the United States of America.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Do I yield you now or do I go on?
ADMINISTRATOR MCCARTHY: You can go on.
THE PRESIDENT: I can go on? Okay.
Alicia, tell me about you — what you guys are doing.
MS. KNAPP: Yes. Thank you, Mr. President. It’s an honor to be here with you today to talk about the exciting work we’re doing in Imperial County, California, and the benefits it could bring to the local community.
So, at BHE Renewables, we are working not just to secure a domestic source of lithium, but we’re working to secure the most abundant source of lithium in the United States, using the world’s most environmentally friendly technology, and providing economic and employment benefits in one of the most disadvantaged communities — counties in the country.
So, if this seems ambitious, it is. And there’s no one better suited to take on an ambitious task like this than Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
We’ve been operating geothermal plants in the Imperial Valley for 40 years, and we’re currently operating 10 geothermal plants by bringing superheated brine from several miles beneath the Earth’s surface and using steam from that brine to generate clean baseload power. And then we reinject the brine into the geothermal reservoir.
So, what that means is that, right now, we are pumping 50,000 gallons per minute of lithium-rich brine to the surface. And because there is no proven commercially viable technology, we’re pumping it right back down into the ground. So, the good news is that we are currently undertaking two demonstration plant projects to prove that we can recover that lithium as we have it above ground in a commercially viable manner.
So, the first of those demonstration plants is actually going to come online this April. And in that phase, we will extract lithium from the brine. And that project is supported by a $6 million grant from the California Energy Commission. Thank you, Governor Newsom.
And the second phase of the demonstration is supported by a $14.9 million grant from the Department of Energy. So, thank you, Mr. President.
And in that phase, we will take the lithium we recovered in the first phase and convert it to battery-grade lithium compounds.
If both of these demonstration projects are successful, we would then be in a position to begin construction of our first commercial plant in 2024 and, by 2026, be commercially extracting lithium from our geothermal brine.
As we undertake these demonstration projects, we’re engaging with the Lithium Valley Commission, which is a group of Tribal leaders, local community representatives, labor leaders, and environmental justice groups. And we’re engaging with them from day one to make sure that lithium production in the Imperial Valley is done in a way that benefits everyone.
We’re also investing in local education. So, recently, we donated $130,000 to the Westmoreland Union Elementary School District, and we committed $25,000 in scholarships for STEM education at the local Imperial Valley College.
We’re also working with local educational institutions to develop programs — training programs, curriculum, internships, and hands-on opportunities at our site — to help prepare the local residents for future careers in the geothermal and/or lithium business.
So, we’re definitely committed to delivering a secure lithium future and are living up to the values that you’ve laid out for us, Mr. President. So thank you, again, for the opportunity.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it’s really important. You know, I — we have to learn the lessons from the past couple hundred years of mining, generally. And I — I really mean it. And — and I understand — I’m told — I’m looking at my notes here — I’m told that you’re providing scholarships for local students taking STEM courses. Is that right?
MS. KNAPP: It is, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: And are you going to be developing internships as well? I mean, this is — I — correct me, Governor, if I’m wrong, but I think this has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in California and a poverty rate that is over 24 percent.
So, this ought to be not only good for lithium but good for — for the residents, I mean, if you’re really going to do that. Are you? Are you going to stick there in the community?
MS. KNAPP: Yes, absolutely. Like I said, we’ve been in this community for almost 40 years. We have been working with local educational institutions to develop the curricula that will train the workers for the lithium business of the future.
Also, internships, which apply to, you know, engineers. And — and things like that. And on-site, hands-on training opportunities for folks in the local community as well.
So, whatever your interest is — if it’s a four-year college, a two-year college, going straight to work — we’re making sure that we have opportunities for you at our plants in the Imperial Valley.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good. Well, we came up with a Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that provided only $4 billion to help in this process. So I hope it — I — I ho- — stick with what you’re — what you’re saying. I appreciate it.
I mean, the $4 billion is for electric batteries. That’s a — you know, which you’re a big part of.
All right, well, thank you. And —
MS. KNAPP: Yes. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Now, you got to let me know when I’m supposed to stop here.
But, Silvia — where is Silvia? There you are, Silvia. How are you, Silvia?
MS. PAZ: I’m doing (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: You’re the Executive Director of the — of the operation. Can you tell me a little about what you’re going to be doing?
MS. PAZ: Yes, I’m — well, thank you, Mr. President. And, really, it’s a privilege to be joining you here, along with the governor of my state and all of the industry leaders.
And you — I am the Executive Director of Alianza Coachella Valley. I also chair the Lithium Valley Commission. And, really, this — we have a great opportunity to really meet the community where they are. So I thank you for recognizing that the Salton Sea region is already battling with some of the highest unemployment rates. We were also one of the regions that are hardly — hardest hit by the COVID pandemic.
So, for the last 10 years, Alianza has been working alongside community members to address the issues that they see most important to their lives — the issues that a lot of times prevent barriers to them having real opportunities for economic progress. And those issues have been issues around infrastructure.
And when we’re talking about infrastructure, we’re also talking about the same infrastructure that left our mostly agricultural community at a disadvantage when it came to being able to protect themselves from COVID.
We’re talking about an area that houses — is home to the largest body of water, the Salton Sea, that is facing environmental degradation.
So, when we — our community hears about the excitement around lithium, there is a cautious optimism because it falls around this context: a community that has seen unfulfilled promises.
And could this be a game changer? Yes, it could, if done right. What does it mean to do it right in the context of the community I just described? It means that we are going to have to double down on the investments going beyond incentivizing career and educational pathways.
We need to make sure that there’s investments to get this community ready. When we talk about the potential of lithium, we need to capture as many of the jobs as possible. We need to be able to capture as many of the supply chain elements as possible.
But if I look at my community and I see that when there’s a high wind, you know, our powerlines fall, it leaves our communities without power, we have a long ways to go. And we’re really counting on the incentives that are coming from the federal level, that are coming from the state level to be able to do this right for our communities.
We want to be at the table and help you understand what it means to us to have a prosperous economy.
Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. We’re going to — at the federal level, we’re investing billions of dollars in making sure that you have resilience in your energy supplies. For example, you talk about, you know, the electric power and — and transmission lines and the like.
So, there’s a lot going on. But one of the things that I’m glad to hear you continue to talk about is that, you know, when the tough stuff had to be done before we had environmental laws that really made a difference, all those fenceline communities, all those communities next to the places where they’re being done, suffered all the downside and didn’t get much of the benefits.
And it’s my hope and my expectation that those communities, like the farming community that rep- — that you represent, that you’re talking about, get the benefit of being able to be employed and being able to generate a living from what’s going to be happening here and are protected environmentally.
And so, building out a battery supply chain in the region where you live, what kind of impact will that have on your residents, do you think? What — what’s your worry? And what’s your expectation and hope?
MS. PAZ: Yes. The worry is that we can do this in an environmentally friendly manner, that it will not cause further environmental degradation in an area that’s already suffering from it. The hope is that we can really be transformative, that our community can be much more engaged from the beginning, determining where potential investments should go; that they can have a seat at the table when we’re talking about community workforce agreements and determining what percent of labor should come from the local region.
And if you ask me and you ask my colleagues on the ground — all of them — right? — we should prioritize local hiring. We want good jobs, quality jobs that are paying benefits. And we want to make sure, again, that this community is transformed beyond only building the industry up.
We have a beautiful landscape, but we also have a landscape that needs additional infrastructure — roads, access to parks, access to the outdoors.
And I think we have the right pieces to build from. There is — the values that you’ve mentioned are in alignment with the values that the community is asking for. The framework that I know Governor Newsom will talk about is in alignment with what we’re asking for.
Now, the hard part is in the details in implementing it and making sure that all of us can be working and having those tough discussions, whether it’s going to be that we’re asking for fees, royalties, community benefit agreements, and that we really let the community determine what those benefits ought to be.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you.
Gov, I think you agree that one of the great things about the country is that we don’t have to choose jobs over the environment or public health. And committing to the highest environmental standards could even be one of our nation’s most competitive advantages, if we’re smart about it. We’ve talked about that — you and I.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: Yeah.
THE PRESIDENT: What steps are you taking, together with industry workers, local communities to — and Tribal nations — to help us secure domestic sources of critical minerals in the right way?
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: Yeah, well, first of all, I can’t impress upon you, Mr. President, how important your words are to the community. You heard that in Silvia, reflected in her comments.
But look, at the end of the day, there — there is anxiety that — you know, with the — what we refer to as “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” down there in Imperial Valley, this extraordinary economic opportunity that now presents itself — that people can be left behind.
And to hear you reinforce that frame that it’s not just about growth in the abstract, it’s about inclusion, it’s about reconciling the past in making sure that our values are front and center in our policy to accelerate into the future. And so, just those words are important.
But I want you to know: We’re following up by codifying them and organizing, with Silvia and her team, with a community benefits package focusing not just on the economic opportunity but making sure that the growth and inclusion strategies include local hires, include local benefits in a sustainable way.
And that’s what’s so exciting, from my perspective, because it — you know, there’s an old African proverb that says, “You want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
And I think the opportunity to set this up where we can go deep in these conversations today, where we can accelerate those investments, presents itself anew. And you’re giving us an enormous amount of energy in this space with these new resources and a resourceful mindset where we also can address the twin problem which you began with, and that is national security and recognizing and reconciling the world we’re living in, and what are the trendlines that define that world, and becoming more supply chain — less dependent, but more independent in providing those domestic opportunities.
And I’m very prideful, Mr. President, California is still the most dominant manufacturing state in America. Twenty-six percent of your jobs — American jobs came out of California in December — twenty-six percent.
We’re really proud of the American job recovery. We’re really proud of California’s approach. But it’s around creating policy that it can accelerate that growth but, again, with this mindset around sustainability.
And so, thank you for, again, your leadership. And we’re really looking forward. We think this is big. We don’t want to understate it. We also don’t want to overstate it. We’re still doing a lot of the due diligence. But if it’s as big as it appears to be, this is a game changer in terms of our efforts to transition to low-carbon green growth and to radically change the way we produce and consume energy.
And this is a hinge moment in the history that you’re making, not just here today but the work you’ve been doing the last year.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks, Gov.
I — I agree with you. This is one of those moments. It’s one of those inflection points in history. And I’ve been saying that — you and I, we’ve spent a lot of time together. You and I both talked about there’s certain — there’s so much that has the potential to change for the better, to fundamental — like the idea of all of us here talking about the combination of the economic, the — the technological breakthroughs, coupled with the impact on doing it in environmentally sound ways to produce changes in the nature of communities. And I think it just has enormous opportunity.
And as someone was pointing out to me today, your economy in California is bigger than about the size of Russia’s —
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: (Laughs.)
THE PRESIDENT: For real. No —
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: Twice. It’s twice the size, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Twice. Yeah, I know.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: Fifth-largest economy in the world, so treat us well. Thank you. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But who’s paying attention, right? (Laughter.)
No, but all kidding aside, it’s been great. And that’s — that’s mainly because I think — I’m going to turn this over to Gina McCarthy to facilitate the remainder of this conversation — but I think it’s in part because of the next guy she’s going to represent, the President of the United Steelworkers. But that’s a different section. (Laughter.)
But anyway, thanks, Gov. Appreciate it, Gavin.
GOVERNOR NEWSOM: I appreciate you.
ADMINISTRATOR MCCARTHY: Thanks, everybody, and stick around. We’re going to ask the press corps if they don’t mind leaving at this point. And then we’ll start up the conversation again, if you don’t mind.
4:19 P.M. EST