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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Op-ed: How the EPA Sticks Miners With a Motherlode of Regulation

    The following op-ed by American Resources Principal Dan McGroarty was published in the Wall Street Journal on January 3, 2014. The original text can be found here.

    Copper

    How the EPA Sticks Miners With a Motherlode of Regulation
    The years-long wait for mining permits in the U.S. is the worst in the world.

    On Dec. 13, the proposed Rosemont Copper project in southwestern Arizona—which would produce about one-tenth of all the copper in the U.S. every year—got the green light from the U.S. Forest Service to begin operations.

    It was a long time coming—more than seven years after the company presented its mine plan and began the National Environmental Policy Act review process. Then again, since the average time to get a mine permitted in the U.S. is a worst-in-the-world seven-to-10 years, Rosemont’s long wait isn’t the exception. It’s the rule.

    The Forest Service’s approval should be great news for our high-tech economy, powered by copper in, for instance, electric vehicles, smart homes and smartphones (about 10% of an average phone’s weight is copper). But that decision is overshadowed by the last remaining—and most formidable—governmental hurdle, the Environmental Protection Agency, the guardian of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Having run the gauntlet of state and local permitting requirements, Rosemont now faces two potentially fatal challenges from the EPA in the final stages of review: either death by a thousand pesky comments or an outright veto.

    In the bureaucratic equivalent of sticky riot foam—a substance meant to slow and stop people on the street—every few months, a couple of dozen pages furl out from the EPA to Rosemont’s managers. Past communications have included the suggestion that the project might jeopardize the leopard frog, or the Gila topminnow, or the water umbrel. One official worry was that the project might impede the opportunity for people to canoe in a desert region where summer temperatures reach 118 degrees.

    The EPA churns out concerns about potential impacts on 18 miles of streams and threats to the “water quality” of the Davidson Canyon Wash, a single gulch—filled intermittently by rain—in a state with 39,039 rivers and streams. The agency also lets Rosemont know it will be looking at the impacts of mining on air quality—but only after a preliminary process to determine which air-quality standard should apply. Each governmental query receives a Rosemont reply in the never-ending race toward a moving finish line.

    Even this snail’s pace doesn’t satisfy antimining advocates. Many environmentalists and anticapitalists (and many critics are both) would like to see the EPA simply short-circuit the review process and veto the mine proposal. After all, the agency has used Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to shut down a mine—famously, the Spruce Mine in West Virginia—even after it had received its operating permit.

    For the most vocal environmental groups, the EPA is perfectly suited as judge and jury. Jennifer Krill, the director of Earthworks, confirmed in congressional testimony earlier this year that her group has never supported or endorsed a single U.S. mine. The threat of an EPA Clean Water Act veto of various projects hangs over more than $220 billion in economic development, ranging from mines to agriculture and infrastructure projects.

    Sadly for communities around the proposed mine—about 30 miles southwest of Tucson in an area where unemployment is still stubbornly close to 10%—every day of delay means a longer wait for much-needed jobs, which would funnel much-needed revenue into local tax coffers. Mothers and fathers struggling to support their families may feel endangered, but unlike the leopard frog, they’re not on a government list.

    The nation, meanwhile, is losing the output of a mine with a projected yearly output of more than 100,000 metric tons. That’s Arizona copper the U.S. wouldn’t need to import from abroad, feeding a negative balance of trade, and providing political and economic leverage to nations that supply the metal we fail to mine ourselves.

    If we mine fewer metals, won’t manufacturing jobs leave the U.S. and go where the metals are? If we don’t mine in the U.S.—with arguably the world’s most stringent oversight, environmental and safety standards—won’t Americans end up importing products made with metals mined in other places under less-stringent standards (if any), leading to far more damage to the environment and the health of the miners? All of these questions are critical to determining whether a mine serves the public good. Surely they must matter to the nation as much as a topminnow does to the EPA.

    Finally, did Congress pass the National Environmental Policy Act to put in place a means of balancing the benefits of resource extraction with competing public goods? Or did it set up an endless bureaucratic gauntlet designed to delay, derail or economically exhaust mine developers?

    Seven and a half years on, Rosemont Copper is still waiting for an answer.

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  • Op-ed: A Potential Copper Bonanza Runs Afoul of the EPA

    Copper

    The following op-ed by American Resources Principal Dan McGroarty was published in the Wall Street Journal on July 5, 2013. The original text can be found here.

    A Potential Copper Bonanza Runs Afoul of the EPA

    The metal is essential for wind turbines, but a proposed mine in Alaska has set off Keystone-like alarms.

    By Daniel McGroarty

    Activists are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to take a drastic regulatory step that could have significant repercussions for the U.S. economy. I’m not referring to the Keystone XL pipeline or taxing carbon emissions. At issue is the Pebble Mine—a natural-resource project in Alaska that could yield more copper than has ever been found in one place anywhere in the world.

    In addition to an estimated 80 billion pounds of copper, the Pebble Mine also holds strategic metals like molybdenum and rhenium, which are essential to countless American manufacturing, high-tech and national-security applications. Yet even before a plan to mine the deposit has been introduced by the Pebble Partnership, the group poised to bring the mine into production, the EPA appears all too willing to bend to the pressure of environmental activists. The EPA has conducted a hypothetical environmental assessment of the region that positions the agency to pre-emptively veto the Pebble project before the partnership even applies for a single permit.

    Apparently some left-wing environmental groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks and Trout Unlimited are so worried that the project might make it through the permitting process that they’re trying to stop it before it starts. As the NRDC put it in August 2012: “EPA’s study (and intervention) is critically important. If left to its own devices, the state of Alaska has never said no to a large mine.”

    Thankfully, some liberals are voicing their opposition to a new EPA pre-emptive veto power. The Center for American Progress, for example, has come out in favor of letting the permitting review take place, even though the group has criticized the Pebble Mine project.

    This is the first instance of a fissure in the unofficial anti-mining alliance that wants to see the EPA acquire vast new powers. With luck, more groups will emulate the Center for American Progress’s principled position.

    The irony here is that renewable-energy industries that environmentalists champion, like solar and wind, rely heavily on copper. More than three tons of it are needed for a single industrial wind turbine. CIGS photovoltaic panels hold out the promise of efficiently capturing the sun’s rays, with an energy conversion rate topping 20%. The “C” in CIGS stands for copper, and the “S” for selenium, 95% of which is derived as a copper byproduct.

    Electric cables, of course, carry the energy generated by these renewable sources to the national grid. The cables are usually made of copper, using the metal’s superior conductivity.

    Yet to hear anti-mining activists tell it, the project at Pebble Mine offers none of these benefits. Just last week, when speaking to the trade publication Energy & Environment News on the subject, NRDC official Joel Reynolds said flatly: “We view this as one of the worst projects anywhere in the world today.”

    Let’s take environmentalists’ advice and “think global” for a moment about that statement. How would a mining project at Pebble stack up against some other places where global markets currently source copper?

    Will Pebble employ child-slaves as young as 8 to do the mining? Copper mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo do—and that copper is sold into the global market.

    Will Pebble send its miners to work without respiratory equipment, wearing boots with holes that let acid rot miners’ feet? Chinese-run mines in Zambia do. Where are the environmentalist protests at the Zambian or Chinese embassies?

    Will Pebble’s leadership be able to order local officials jailed for opposing its project? That’s what happened last month in Iran—a mining nation set on doubling its copper production by 2015—where an entire town council was jailed for opposing a marble and stone mine.

    It’s easy for someone like the NRDC’s Mr. Reynolds to protest an American mine from the organization’s $5 million waterfront headquarters (the Robert Redford Building) in Santa Monica, Calif. In the U.S., protesting is a career choice, and movement leaders are feted with awards and grants. Opposing a project the size of Pebble makes a great fundraising tool. It’s far more challenging to life and limb to take on African warlords, Chinese officials or Iranian mullahs.

    Environmental activists often preach that the planet is interconnected. Well, that’s certainly true of the global marketplace: Every pound of copper left in the ground in Alaska or the Lower 48 is effectively a price support for producers in the places like Zambia and Angola.

    If the EPA reinterprets existing law—Section 404 of the Clean Water Act—and grants itself unilateral authority to stop the permitting process before it begins, Pebble Mine won’t be the only project in its cross hairs, and copper won’t be the only metal. A 2011 study by the Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm, shows that U.S. economic development projects worth more than $200 billion would be exposed if the EPA asserts this new power.

    President Obama recently said that we must weigh the opportunity cost of not building the Keystone XL pipeline. The same logic applies to the project at Pebble Mine—and the federal permitting process is the only place to do that.

    Mr. McGroarty is president of American Resources Policy Network, a public policy research group in Washington, D.C., that is supported by organizations and companies in mining and related industries.

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  • “Can we keep U.S.-mined minerals for exclusive use in this nation?” – A question that misses the mark

    In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, a reader from Arizona responds to American Resources Principal Daniel McGroarty’s op-ed “America’s Growing Minerals Deficit.” Citing Canada-based Augusta Resources’ Rosemont copper mine project in southern Arizona as an example, the reader alleges McGroarty “overlooks one very important consideration. There isn’t any assurance that [...]
  • American Resources Principal discusses mineral resource supply issues in context of White House initiatives in Wall Street Journal

    In a column for the Wall Street Journal, American Resources Policy Network president Dan McGroarty acknowledges some positive signs coming from the Obama Administration indicating an increased focus on access to critical metals and minerals, but underscores that the “situation is actually more acute.” Citing General Electric as an example of a manufacturer that uses [...]
  • Op-ed: America’s Growing Minerals Deficit

    The following op-ed by American Resources Principal Dan McGroarty was published in the Wall Street Journal on January 31, 2013. The original text can be found here. America’s Growing Minerals Deficit The U.S. is now tied for last, with Papua New Guinea, in the time it takes to get a permit for a new mine. By [...]

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