06.30.2010 0

Mining for Jobs

  • On: 07/27/2010 21:15:25
  • In: Economy
  • By Rebekah Rast

    The Seven Dwarfs from the Disney movie wouldn’t be singing “Heigh-Ho” on the way to their job if they were mining in the U.S. In fact, they would probably be out of work altogether.

    An often overlooked but critical industry in America is mining. It’s what many states are known for. The California Gold Rush moved many people West in hopes of becoming rich off gold-mining operations, the state of Arizona is mined for its vast amount of uranium and copper, and West Virginia has mined coal since the 1700s.

    America could easily sustain herself with her own resources. Whether there is a need for minerals, aggregate, sand, gravel or oil, America has it all. This begs the question, why then is the country’s mineral import levels so high?

    “The U.S. exploration budget is shrinking,” says Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association (NMA). “We used to comprise about one-fifth of the world’s exploration budget, now we only represent about 8 percent of all the money spent on exploration. Our import reliance is increasing.”

    It’s interesting that at a time when our economy is suffering and nationwide unemployment rates are almost at 10 percent, the federal government is spending money to import materials America already has in plenty.

    Dr. Madan Singh, director of the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources (DMMR) in Arizona, says that 56 percent of the total land area in the U.S. is not open to mining. Why?

    “The environmentalist agenda of the Obama Administration is destroying one of the most important and functional industries in America,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government. “It is a waste to just leave the valuable resources we have sitting in the ground so the government can own more land while increasing our nation’s debt through imports.”

    One mineral America spends a lot of money importing is copper — yet plenty of it sits in Arizona. Singh says possibly one of the largest copper deposits — probably in the world — was found in Arizona. The problem is the land where the copper is located is owned by the federal government. A land exchange has been proposed by the mining operation for 2,200 acres of the copper-rich land in exchange for 5,500 acres of other land. So far the federal government is not accepting the deal.

    One of Arizona’s own elected Congressman is putting forth his best effort to stop all mining in the state. In H. R. 644, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has introduced in his legislation that approximately one million acres of land, including both federally protected land and beyond, be banned from any mining operations. Though the bill hasn’t moved in Congress since last year, it is still being considered, Singh says.

    Singh also states that last July, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered that the same area in Arizona be withdrawn from all mining operations for two years while they conducted environmental studies on the area. Singh knows there are important minerals in that area, but it doesn’t matter. He knows of only one mining operation that was allowed to continue mining the area. Salazar and his team are waiting for the results of the environmental impact statement and once they see what the results are, they have the power to shut the area down for mining for up to 20 years.

    “Many in Washington, D.C. want to keep more and more land from development and make it into parks, wilderness areas or scenic areas,” Singh says.

    Popovich agrees. “The enormous appetite to lock up federal land and empower the Secretary of the Interior to, at his discretion, ban mining operations on land even when the mining company has all the correct permits is wrong. Obama has taken away useful land.”

    Land and jobs. Singh says the average salary of a miner is about $60,000 a year. When you begin taking those jobs out of America, the economy will suffer even more. “It’s a domino effect,” he says. “If people are working then they will buy things and spend money.”

    He goes on to say that every time you don’t let mining operations go to work then surrounding industries struggle as well. Miners will no longer buy trucks or the necessary equipment to mine, hurting those manufacturing businesses and putting more hard-working Americans out of work. This ripple effect can shatter a small town reliant on mining to pieces.

    “Obama talks out of both sides of his mouth,” says ALG’s Wilson. “He talks about job growth to the American people but his actions drive up unemployment numbers and force small businesses to close.”

    Because of the harsh environmental regulations mining operations have to go through before they can even begin to mine, many of the smaller mining businesses have been forced to close.

    “Permits take a long time to get and the environmentalists are constantly fighting against them,” says Popovich. “This forces you to spend more money on environmental analysis before you make any money on mining.” Popovich says it can take five to seven years to open a new mine, depending on the area of the mine and how many agencies are involved and how many lawsuits you have to face from green groups.

    This is exactly why smaller mining industries can’t survive anymore. Singh says you still might find smaller mining operations in the sand, gravel and aggregate field, but they are facing lots of red tape as well.

    A larger mining operation has the opportunity to run global. Popovich says it can take six to seven years to get a copper mining permit in the U.S., but in Chile, it only takes about 18 months.

    Singh has also seen some companies go overseas as well, but they still face obstacles. “Some mineral mining operations do go overseas, but it is more difficult because countries like China and India are grabbing up mining areas in South America and other popular mining countries making them unavailable to the U.S.”

    Aside from encouraging more spending on imports and depressing the job market further, the Obama Administration’s actions toward the mining industry puts our nation at great risk.

    By heightening our levels of imports the federal government is creating a national security problem. “If we are dependent on someone else and they no longer are willing to provide for us, then our supply line is interrupted and that’s a problem,” says Singh. “What if it is war time and we can’t get the supplies we need?”

    Another point Singh highlights is greed. What if countries we are dependent on are no longer willing to sell their resources? Singh gives this example: A mineral referred to as rare earth is used in high-tech materials, like television and computer screens and many military defense supplies. The U.S. used to mine this mineral, but was forced to stop because of all the environmental restrictions put into place. China now has well over 90 percent of the all the rare earth used throughout the world and is beginning to restrict its exports of the material. Now the U.S. is in a rush to find the material other places. A mine in California, across from the Nevada border, used to be in operation and mined rare earth. There are efforts to restart this mine, but Singh says it will still take at least two years to get the mine running again.

    America has not situated itself in a wise place. Uranium is another mineral we have an abundance of in Arizona, yet, Singh says we import 90 percent of the uranium we use for power plants in the U.S.

    The federal government isn’t helping America in any way by banning mining throughout the country. The mining industry is one of the most important, reliable and oldest industries in the nation. It is a critical part of America’s past and has much to offer for its future. If Obama is serious about not being so reliant on other countries for imports then the answer is simple—let mining operations go to work.

    Rebekah Rast is the National Correspondent for Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.

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