The Clean Energy Revolution is a Chance to Clean Up Mining

Traveling across the U.S. in energy-producing regions, like Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania – even urban Los Angeles, I am always struck by the enormous job we have ahead of us to transition to a clean energy economy. Our transportation and energy systems are dependent on fossil fuels, and they deliver us benefits, like warm homes and weekend getaways.

But fossil fuels also deliver terrible impacts to communities and the global climate. Oil and gas wells that are harming nearby residents; pipelines that blow methane into the air we breathe; water that is permanently polluted. We know this, and that is why we are working hard towards a 100% renewable energy future, towards a managed decline from coal, oil and gas, against the petrochemical and pipeline buildout, and for a just transition for workers and communities.

We also know that the solutions are at hand. Wind, solar, and other clean sources produced more electricity than coal last month; clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs three-to-one. Fifteen years ago as part of a movement for zero-emission electric vehicles, I co-founded Plug In America, and now there are over a million EVs on the road in the U.S. alone.

But those solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles demand new materials, and the new energy system is facing a real risk of causing severe impacts where minerals are mined. Nobody knows this better than Earthworks, with our long history of fighting mines where they don’t belong and working to reform mining policies and practices. New research confirms that under a 100 percent renewable energy scenario, metal requirements could rise dramatically, requiring new primary and recycled sources.

That is why Earthworks launched the Making Clean Energy Clean, Just & Equitable initiative, which aims to ensure that the transition to renewable energy is powered by responsibly and equitably sourced minerals, minimizing dependence on new extraction and moving the mining industry toward more responsible practices.

Earthworks and over 60 other organizations are calling on financial institutions such as the World Bank to approach the clean energy transition as an opportunity to scale back our dependence on dirty mining. That means prioritizing mineral reuse and recycling over new mining, and (where new mining is necessary), adhering to responsible sourcing standards.

Earthworks is fully committed to a clean energy future. And it’s important to learn from the mistakes of the past. We should be able to have modern civilization, with energy equity within the U.S., and between the global north and global south, without permanently polluting water, or ruining the lives of people working in the mining sector.

Just as we have worked for over 30 years with policy makers, mining companies and downstream purchasers of minerals to find real solutions to the impacts from mining, we are committed to working with the renewable energy sector and other stakeholders to ensure that clean energy is clean, all the way back to the source.

We have an opportunity to get this right, before the materials that will supply our new energy system are firmly set. Let’s make sure the path to clean energy is a good one.


For More Information

The UTS-ISF report Responsible Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy:

Earthworks’ Making Clean Energy Clean, Just & Equitable: