Former Idaho governor seeks investigation of mining company

July 15, 2019 - 1:28 pm

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Former Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has asked the Trump administration to investigate possible Chinese involvement in a mining company that could compete in Idaho with a Canadian-based company that tapped Otter to serve on its board of directors.

The Idaho Statesman reports in a story on Friday that Otter in a July 9 letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he's concerned cobalt mined in Idaho will be shipped to China.

Otter, a Republican, left office in January after serving 12 years as governor. In February he joined the board of Toronto-based First Cobalt Corp.

Otter is asking Mnuchin to look into Australia-based Jervois Mining Ltd.'s move to acquire ECobalt Solutions, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Cobalt is used in making lithium-ion batteries. U.S. Department of Energy officials say a reliable and affordable supply of cobalt and other metals crucial to battery production is needed in anticipation of soaring global demand and potential shortages.

Currently, cobalt largely is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. U.S. officials say U.S. dependence on other countries for cobalt and finished lithium-ion batteries undermines national security. The U.S Department of the Interior has designated cobalt as a critical mineral, and President Donald Trump has sought to smooth the way for more prospecting and mining of cobalt and other minerals in the U.S.

First Cobalt, which has Otter on its board, says Idaho has some of the best cobalt mining potential in the U.S. in what's called the Idaho Cobalt Belt.

The company's competitor, ECobalt Solutions, has spent more than $135 million in the last two decades developing a cobalt mine in central Idaho. Otter in his letter to Mnuchin said that potential Chinese investment in Jervois Mining Ltd.'s move to acquire ECobalt Solutions is problematic.

"I would urge you to review this transaction to ensure that Jervois — and the cobalt resources it is acquiring — is free from Chinese control," Otter wrote. "My great concern is that without a plan for North American refining and a commitment to supply domestic consumers, Idaho cobalt ore will be shipped to China. This would be the worst imaginable outcome for our national security, economic development and job creation."

Mnuchin is chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has the authority to examine transactions as they pertain to national security.

Brian Morgenstern, a deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, told the newspaper in an email that, by law, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States cannot disclose to the public information filed with the committee. "Accordingly, the department does not comment on information relating to specific CFIUS cases, including whether or not certain parties have filed notices for review," he said in the email.

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com