From “Drill, Baby, Drill” to “Mine, Baby, Mine”

President Biden and the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Planet Earth

by Max Wilbert and Elisabeth Robson / April 15th, 2022

Published in Dissident Voice, April 15, 2022

In 2015, former President Barack Obama said “If we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.” Despite this, Obama’s energy policy was called “All of the Above,” and his administration supported and subsidized drilling for oil, fracking for gas, coal mining, damming rivers, building nuclear power plants, erecting wind turbines on mountaintops, capping hot springs for geothermal energy, and covering sunny regions with solar panels.

President Trump followed a similar policy; despite publicly joking about wind and solar, his administration fast-tracked infrastructure permits for energy projects of all kinds as well as for mining to extract materials for electric vehicles (such as the Thacker Pass lithium mine).

Clearly, politicians lie.

President Biden is following in their footsteps. Even before the war in Ukraine broke out and Biden began taking action to increase domestic oil drilling, the U.S. was on track to break an all-time record for oil production in 2023.

On March 31st, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA)—a cold-war era bill giving broad powers the Executive Branch—and directed the Department of Defense to provide up to $750 million in subsidies to the mining industry for five “critical materials”: lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, and manganese. The Administration’s stated goal is to develop the domestic supply chain for critical minerals used by the military, in industry, and in the energy system, including batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage.

The DPA allows the military to do pretty much whatever it feels is necessary, without much oversight from the people of the United States, to extract resources for domestic supplies of these “critical” materials, in the name of national security and national defense.

This subsidy will mean more mining, more land bulldozed, more mountains blown up, more water polluted. It will mean more biodiverse, sacred places like Thacker Pass on the chopping block. It will further mute the voices of people and communities already drowned out by the howling of corporate power, lobbyists, and campaign contributions. And we believe it is very unlikely to substantially reduce carbon emissions.

Since the founding of the United States, political parties have battled over slavery, poverty, and military intervention. But the need to destroy wild lands to “develop natural resources” has never really been up for debate. And now this problem is global, since the U.S. way of life has been pushed on the world via economic and military colonization, structural adjustment policies, “free” trade, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation for the better part of 100 years.

This is the “good-cop bad-cop” routine that the Democrats and Republicans play with our society, and our planet. While the partisan gridlock continues and political battles shift one way, then another, we find ourselves in an environmental crisis, with 200 species being driven extinct every day, dead zones in the ocean, toxic chemicals inside every person’s body, 40% of all deaths being attributable to pollution, the erosion of soil fertility, and with climate destabilization promising a future of mass refugee crises, resource wars, and social chaos.

There is irony in President Biden invoking the “Defense Production Act” and putting funds to subsidize the mining industry in the hands of the U.S. Military. Here in Nevada, where we have been fighting to protect Thacker Pass from a proposed lithium mine permitted by the Trump administration and touted by the Biden administration, there is a history of linkages between mining and warfare.

In 1865, U.S. Cavalry soldiers slaughtered a group of Paiute men, women, and children camped at Thacker Pass. The soldiers attacked at dawn, riding down from the east on the unsuspecting Paiutes, who fled west into what could soon become an open-pit mine. One contemporary, Sarah Winnemucca, writes of the Snake War that “the only way the cattlemen and farmers get to make money is to start an Indian war, so that the troops may come and buy their beef, cattle, horses, and grain.” In the slaughter, between 31 and 70 Paiutes were killed, or as a newspaper article stated, made “permanently friendly,” and “a troubled peace” settled over “ranches, mines, and prospect camps” in Northern Nevada.

Within empires, there is a symbiotic relationship between military and economic spheres. War is good for business, and business is good for war. If war is a continuation of politics by other means, as the Prussian strategist Clausewitz said, then economics is the engine that powers both peacetime and wartime politics. Armies have always marched on their stomachs, but in the last century they have also been whisked along on jet fuel and diesel. Biden’s strategy is clear: the five minerals he has subsidized will not only be used directly in military hardware including nuclear weapons, their mining and consumption will also provide the tax base to fuel increasing military spending, and their domestic production will defuse economic weapons that could be leveraged by China and Russia.

To critique U.S. economic and military hegemony is to make yourself a pariah, especially when one utters such blasphemy during a “just war”—or, as is happening in Ukraine now, a proxy war. In superpower conflicts, economic dominance and military power are twin raised fists. The neoliberal New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, in one of his more lucid moments, that “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

Unlike Mr. Friedman, we do not see this as positive. Our world is crumbling under the incessant assaults of McDonalds, McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing), and Silicon Valley. These companies and industries are ecoterrorists and are raping our planet. Their shareholder wealth grows proportion to the number of bombs dropped, the gallons of jet fuel burned, the pounds of toxic waste emitted from factories around the world, and the number of animals cruelly sacrificed in industrial slaughterhouses. Their products are made of shattered mountains and shattered soils. They are Faustian devils, providing short-lived benefits to a few, while damming us and our grandchildren to a hellish future.

But perhaps we are being unfair. The benefits packages must be nice. Perhaps destroying the natural world, driving entire species to extinction, dooming future generations to starvation and war, trampling local communities opposition, and burying native sacred sites is less important than seeing your stock portfolio rise.

Here in Nevada, Governor Sisolak is already using the White House announcement to promote Nevada as a key source of these critical materials, to make sure his state gets some of the funding that will be handed out by the Biden administration to extract even more resources and develop more industry. Nevada is consistently the state with the highest release of toxic pollution in the country each year, thanks to the mining and military activities in the state. It’s also a state being devastated right now with thousands of acres of desert ecosystems being razed for new industrial solar farms and the grids that accompany them. Nevada has a long history of extraction and destruction for mining and the military, at the expense of the fragile arid high desert ecosystems which make up the state, and the communities of people and wild beings who live there. Governor Sisolak’s plans to cash in on the federal government’s plans to develop domestic mining and industry for “national defense” will ensure that this doesn’t change.

In times of war, and in times of peace, the poor, women and children, elderly people, and the living planet all pay the price.


Image: pronghorn on the site of the planned Thacker Pass mine (photo by Max Wilbert)