Greens favor copper products, oppose copper mining

Joseph Moser Contributor
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A major mineral discovery has been made near Bristol Bay, Alaska, about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. If unearthed, it is estimated to produce over 80 billion tons of a mineral that literally makes modern life possible — copper.

As a durable, recyclable and highly efficient conductor of electricity, copper is at the heart of modern technology. It is essential to everything from cell phones to toasters. Without it, life would be downright primitive.

Right now, The Pebble Partnership is investing millions of dollars to responsibly permit, engineer, construct and operate a long-term copper and gold mine in Alaska. The discovery couldn’t come at a better time, considering the record-high price of copper (over $4.00 per pound). A new mine would meet growing worldwide demand and bring over 3,000 long- and short-term job opportunities to economically depressed Southwest Alaska.

To date, Pebble has poured a record-setting $120 million into a comprehensive baseline environmental study to ensure the nearby salmon streams and tribal communities are protected. For over four years, scientists have been gathering information on the region’s water sources, soil, air quality and just about everything that walks, crawls, swims or flies.

And it’s only the beginning: Pebble needs to apply for permits later this year — hundreds of them — from local, state and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This could take another four to seven years.

Predictably, environmental groups are vehemently opposed to the mine.

The kicker: Pebble hasn’t even begun the permitting process — nor has it come up with a finalized proposal! The company is still in the process of producing its pre-feasibility report to present to the public and government officials for scrutiny. Still, the greens are determined to preemptively kill Pebble before it starts.

Environmental groups including the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the Renewable Resource Coalition (RRC) have already run aggressive TV, radio and print ads shunning the project as a dirty, ugly venture sure to cause a “salmon holocaust” in one of the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs. The NRDC has even teamed up with big-wig Hollywood actor Robert Redford to produce a full-page ad featuring a call to action against the mine.

Recently, these groups and six Alaskan tribal councils sent letters to the EPA demanding it invoke its potent and rarely used power under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to block the potential mine. Pending an environmental study of the area, the EPA has yet to make a decision. However, it appears the outcome may be predetermined.

In late March, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson attended a reception at the Supreme Court for opponents of Pebble Mine to speak about the study. While she did not mention Pebble, her appearance at what was essentially a pep rally for those opposing the mine signals that Jackson has already made up her mind.

Before jumping to conclusions, greens should consider their hypocrisy on this matter.

Recently, the EPA declared a new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 34.1 mpg by 2016. Going a step further, the NRDC is demanding Obama administration officials set even stronger global warming pollution and fuel-efficiency standards to ensure cars and trucks average at least 60 mpg by 2025. The hope is that higher standards and government “incentives” will encourage automakers to produce more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric cars.

One problem: the more electric a vehicle is, the more copper it contains.

Each hybrid contains about 100 pounds of copper — most of that is in the electrical cables and the electric motor. A conventional car only contains about 50 pounds of copper.

Other “green” technologies also contain lots of copper. A five-megawatt wind turbine is made of nearly five tons of copper and solar panels are up to 60 percent copper. Blocking future mine construction effectively jeopardizes the very technology greens want to power their vision of a “clean-energy future.”

Greens have a choice to make — either stop Pebble dead in its tracks or work with the company to devise a plan that both protects the fish and develops a crucial raw material vital to our modern economy. The latter seems unlikely. In the end, destruction sells and environmental groups that say something isn’t a problem become irrelevant, fast.

Joseph Moser is a Development Associate at Americans for Prosperity Foundation in Arlington, VA.