11.08.2011 1

Mining for a green economy

By Rick Manning — The states of Alaska and Arizona were forged through mining.

Arizona’s history of mining goes back one thousand years, and the first rush to populate Alaska was through the Klondike and Nome gold rushes in the 1890s.

Now, major mining projects in both states are threatened by environmental activists who are seemingly determined to stop any development of our nation’s national resources.

The Resolution Mining Project in Superior, Arizona is a major copper find about 70 miles from Phoenix, which has the misfortune of having a portion of the find located within a national forest.

In order to allow the mine permitting processes to go through normal channels, U.S. Representative Paul Gosar led the House of Representatives to pass legislation which would allow a simple land swap.  The Gosar legislation would have the Resolution Copper Company exchange about 5,300 environmentally sensitive acres that they currently own to the federal government in exchange for the 2000 plus copper rich acres currently under the U.S. Forest Service’s control.  The legislation now moves to the Senate for action.

Not surprisingly, environmentalists are not happy with the concept of getting environmentally important land under the control of the federal government if it means allowing a major mining operation to move ahead through regular mine plan approval processes.

In Alaska, environmentalists have lined up to oppose the Pebble Mine project due to concerns about the impact of the mine on the salmon fisheries of the Bristol Bay region with Alaska state courts scheduled to take up the case in the near future.

The Pebble project is proposed for an area of the Bristol Bay region which is designated specifically for mining activity.

Alaska is a state that is blessed with majestic mountains, flat coastal plains, and more lakes than a Minnesotan can imagine. Its glacier fed silted rivers shimmer a silvery path toward a Pacific or Arctic Ocean coastline that is longer than the combined total coastline of the rest of the United States.

The state of Alaska is so large, Alaskans are fond of reminding Texans that it is two and a half times bigger than the Lone Star state.

And the mining industry itself is so important to both the history and overall economy of Alaska, that tracts of land have been officially designated as appropriate for mining. These state designated mining areas not only allow explorers a degree of certainty that if they make a discovery they will be able to recover the minerals, but also limits the extractions to areas where they are suitable to occur.

The Pebble Mine project is in one of these specifically, pre-approved mining areas.   The Bristol Bay region is an area larger than the entire state of Ohio containing four federal wildlife refuges and three national parks.  Additionally, the state has set aside two conservation areas in the land that they control in the region.

In one of the seemingly endless valleys in the rolling hills of this mining designated area, lies the Pebble Mine project, a copper discovery that is being called one of the largest in the world. The mineral rights have been purchased from the state, and the owner of those rights is in the beginning stages of finalizing a mining plan that can be considered by various government regulators.

The company hoping to develop the mine has already spent almost $150 million on environmental impact studies over a period of seven years — just to make certain that whatever they present to regulators meets the most stringent environmental standards.

Incredibly, the Pebble Mine project has been subject to a multi-million dollar smear campaign based entirely on a fear campaign that is absent one simple element — facts.

Once the Pebble project has filed a mining plan, it is fair to scrutinize and refine that plan.  What does not make sense is to create a campaign of fear based upon worse case scenarios before anyone has even seen the plan.

The ultimate irony in the determined effort by the environmental left to prevent mining ventures like the project in Alaska and Arizona is that products like solar panels and the batteries for electric vehicles are dependent upon copper to work.  Copper’s unique conductivity and malleability makes it one of the most important metals in the envisioned green future.

Yet, these same environmental activists who want to wish a non-fossil fuel future into existence consistently line up in opposition to the mining of the copper resource that that future depends upon.

In many ways, the battle over the development of the Resolution and Pebble Mines in two distinctly different parts of the country will define if mining will continue to be a viable industry in America, or if the green advocates who benefit from the output of mining will kill the industry domestically.

In today’s America there is an intellectual disconnect between the products we want and use and how they are manufactured.  Ultimately, everything that is produced comes out of the ground. That inescapable fact cannot be wished away.

Beyond the irony of the dependency of green technologies on copper is that developing mines in the United States ensures that they are constructed using the most up to date environmental and workplace safety standards.  Standards which raw materials developed elsewhere around the globe are not subjected to.

Let’s hope that calmer heads prevail on the Resolution and Pebble projects, because copper is going to be mined somewhere in the world to meet the needs in the 21st century world.  The question is whether it will be mined here in an environmentally sound way with worker safety as a priority.

Rick Manning is the Communications Director of Americans for Limited Government.

Copyright © 2008-2021 Americans for Limited Government