Regulatory pressure moves battery recycling south of the border

Among the many problems with the headlong rush to subsidize the entire electric-car distribution channel is the environmental impact of the battery life cycle.  Electric vehicles require large battery arrays to have any kind of practical range, and the process of manufacturing batteries requires rare-earth elements that require extensive mining — and have to be imported to the US, primarily from China and South America, which negates the effect of transitioning from dependence on foreign oil.  China reminded everyone of that reality almost two years ago, in fact.  Plus, the need to build massive amounts of batteries will create even more environmental hazards, as battery manufacturing is hardly the cleanest of industries.

What happens when those batteries get exhausted?  Supporters of electric-vehicle subsidies claim that most of the material can be recycled to reduce the impact on the environment and the need to keep mining for the elements required.  However, that opens up yet another channel of foreign dependence, as McClatchy reports today. The EPA has tightened regulations on disposal in the battery-recycling process, and so American firms are moving those jobs outside of the US:

When an American replaces the battery in a car, likely as not the old battery will be shipped to Mexico rather than trucked to a modern U.S. recycling plant.

U.S. recyclers have some of the world’s top technology for safely breaking apart batteries to smelt the lead for reuse. But U.S. recycling plants are closing down or standing idle.

Plants in Mexico are not.

Mexico has won a leg up for a reason: Its lead emissions standards are 10 times less stringent than U.S. standards. Mexican factories can ignore strict U.S. regulations that cap harmful lead emissions onto factory floors and into the air.

The result has been an ever-increasing surge in the trade of used batteries across the border. One watchdog group estimated that in 2011, the dead batteries headed to Mexico would have filled 17,952 tractor-trailers. And the trade keeps growing, the result of a stark regulatory gap that has left Mexico at risk of becoming a “pollution haven,” according to a Montreal-based commission that investigates environmental issues under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the economic accord between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Many of the same disposal problems can be found in the manufacture of solar panels, as we have discovered in the collapse of Solyndra and other manufacturers. There are two key differences between the two, however.  First, solar panels actually generate the electricity, although they also require batteries if storage is required; batteries only store power generated by other means.  Second, the shift from gasoline to electricity will require a commensurate increase in power generation for all of these batteries, and solar and wind can’t even come close to meeting that increase in demand.  The power will have to come from oil, coal, and natural gas, which means we’re not only not decreasing arguable environmental damage, we’re actually making it worse — all while forcing the US to become even more dependent on foreign resources for our energy use.

This project from the Obama administration has been an utter failure from its inception. Congress needs to cut off the flow of government funds to a program that will make us weaker, more dependent, and create even more joblessness than now.