U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, questioned witnesses at an EPW hearing entitled “Electric Battery Production and Waste: Opportunities and Challenge.”
Witnesses included James Greenberger Executive Director of NAATBatt International; Michael Sanders Senior Advisor of Avicenne Energy US and Ajay Chawan Associate Director of Navigant Consulting, Inc.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First I want to get in the record this article in the Fortune magazine that talks about some of the child labor problems.
Chairman: Without objection.
Inhofe: Mr. Chawan, I've spent a lot of time in Africa and I know some of the problems that are there. We know that most of this mining we're talking about is in the Congo. We know some of the problems, that was pointed out by the Chairman and pictured up here, are some of the problems that I am very familiar with. We know that children are used in coal mining — primarily in the Congo. Some companies are taking initiatives to better ensure that batteries are ethically mined. What is your thought about that? What have we accomplished and what can we do that we're not doing now?
Chawan: The traceability of materials, I think would be another way potentially to describe what you are referring to, is definitely possible. That's done in other industries today. For example, the food industry does that that very well. The auto industry does that very well for manufacturing, so we know precisely —
Inhofe: So it can be done just as well as it's being done right now?
Chawan: It's being done in these other industries for sure. I do not have familiarity with the mining industry, so I cannot speak to increasability there. I can simply state that there are best practices from other industries that could potentially be adopted to the mining industry. I think that one of the challenges that we would see is what happens when you mix raw materials from multiple sources at a processing facility.
Inhofe: Okay, if you have any problems just consult your son. Now, you know I actually do that. I have 20 kids and grandkids. I fly airplanes and every time I get a new instrument for an airplane, I have my grandkids read the manual and explain it to me. So, I'm serious when I make that suggestion.
Chawan: Okay. Happy to chat separately about this with your office.
Inhofe: All right, I have another article — The Daily Caller — made part of the record. This covers some of the labor problems that are in there. Mr. Sanders, this article talks about how California is contributing to the increased demand on cobalt. We know that's the case. The environmentalists claim that electric cars are the solution to many of the problems that we have. I've also suggested that maybe they are the problem. For example, what's happening with the Highway Trust Fund right now. The reason it's in trouble is primarily due to electric cars. Then we have the human rights concerns. Earlier this year, the state of California debated a bill that would require the state to ensure that zero emission vehicles are free from materials using child labor. Now, that bill failed and the reason is very simple. A prohibition of this kind would get in the way of maintaining the radical electric vehicle mandate. Unfortunately, California turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses. And Mr. Sanders, could you talk about these human rights concerns in the remaining time?
Sanders: Well, I think the human rights concerns are real. The traceability is also becoming real. Multiple OEMs, global OEMs, have established traceability programs from the mines in the Congo all the way through their supply chain. So it is something that can be executed and it is being executed by some of the major OEMs. The other point that's starting to happen — Senator Carper pointed out and asked — are batteries today going to be the same as they are five years and ten years from now? There are substantial programs to reduce the amount of cobalt that's contained in batteries and potentially to go to zero cobalt batteries in the very near future. Lots of universities and OEMs have claimed significant breakthroughs. So, I think the percentage of cobalt per battery is likely to go down dramatically. Which will also further improve the situation.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Sanders. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.