Well, you won’t see that headline atop of pieces like this one in the Alaskan press, but it’s a logical extension of policy actions like the one proposed to stop a copper/gold/molybdenum mine in Alaska. In this case, we’re told that we can either allow the mine to proceed – or we can save the salmon.
Is the choice really that stark and simple? Is the situation so dire that EPA should step in to stop the permitting process, as at least one U.S. Senator now urges – or should we let the prescribed process run its course? After all, it’s not as if the proposed mine is getting a free pass: As the article indicates, the current permitting process requires approvals from 67 different state and federal agencies.
Two facts to inject here:
- As documented in the authoritative Behre Dolbear report, the U.S. currently ranks worst in the world – among the so-called mining nations – in the time it takes to permit a mine.
- Copper – the primary product in this instance – is a critical technology-metal, no less than exotic elements like the Rare Earths.
Case in point: A typical wind turbine uses between 3 and 4½ tons of copper. That’s right: 3 to 4½ tons – per turbine.
Copper is also the source for Selenium – a little know metal that is key to next-gen solar power systems.
So would stopping a U.S. copper mine save salmon? Or would it sacrifice wind and solar power we’re counting on to make the transition to a green economy?
Like so many other metals and minerals that the U.S. is blessed to have but fails to mine, we’re dependent on foreign-sourced supply, with all the attendant strings attached.
If U.S. mining companies operating under U.S. standards are sidelined, where will we get the metals and minerals we need for modern society? As I testified in the U.S. House earlier this year, there are any number of countries that will be happy to feed our copper fix: We could buy copper from Russia, Angola, Afghanistan, DRC Congo, or China — including in all likelihood copper mined from reserves in the Tibet Autonomous Region. There’s also copper in Pakistan and Iran.
Are we OK with “blood copper” supporting our windmills, our solar panels and our cellphones? Do we think these mines would pollute less or be policed more stringently than U.S. mines?
This is the serious discussion we need to have – not feel-good policy-posturing.