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Vol. 15, No. 26 Week of June 27, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Hope springs eternal after PBS stories

Columnist: Will our blind CAVE men and CAVE women one day see that careful resource development is reasonable, appropriate?

J. P. Tangen

For Mining News

I have to admit it. Sometimes, I secretly hang with a few liberal friends. Perhaps I harbor a masochistic tendency, or maybe it is just an intuitive compulsion to embrace the notion that one should keep his friends close and his enemies even closer.

In any case, I find that many left-leaners are bright and well educated, which to me constitutes the best argument against a free public education. After all, if what they get out of four years of undergraduate school is that electricity comes out of a hole in the wall, then inferentially, education isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

On the other hand, sometimes – not often, but sometimes – there is a crack in the edifice of know-it-all-ism through which shines a tiny sliver of light. Most recently, quite by accident, I was watching the PBS NewsHour. Shockingly, they had two stories – one immediately following the other – dealing with the trillion-dollar mineral potential of Afghanistan and the exploration efforts for rare earths in northern Canada. In and of themselves, those were not profound announcements; however, the discussions were fairly extensive in each case, and more to the point, they were almost supportive of well-managed mining operations with the reasonable expectation that – get this – we shall need these mined materials to support out contemporary lifestyles. Clearly, this is not the customary fare of the men and women who generally support Citizens Against Virtually Everything (“the CAVE people.”)

Part of the spin in the Afghanistan story, of course, was that the People’s Republic of China has already cut a deal with the Afghanis to build a railroad to one of the deposits for the purpose of mining the product and shipping it to — of all places — China, where a new era of quasi-capitalism is manifesting itself, and the people are successfully demanding consumer goods. Somehow, the subliminal nexus of mining and manufacturing had crept into the story, perhaps unwittingly. For those who find the foregoing incredible, cross-my-heart, you can see the story on line at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/asia/jan-june10/afghanistan_06-14.html .

The second story, as surprising as the first, relates to the program by Avalon Rare Metals, Inc. to explore a rare earths property in the Northwest Territories. This report had only one or two pokes at the domestic mining industry. Mountain Pass mine in 1996 was accused of leaks associated with the piping of contaminated wastewater into a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert. The owner of the property paid the fines and settled the claims, and a new owner is attempting to bring the property back into production. You can see this story at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june10/metals_06-14.html if you are so inclined.

Of course, neither the facts covered by these stories, nor the relevance they bear to life in the 21st century are news. The Afghani deposits have been known for decades and the utility of rare earths to modern electronics, especially when it comes to color video displays and magnets used in computer drives and wind turbines, among many other applications, has been rolled out for public consumption repeatedly over the past several years.

The remarkable thing is where the stories were carried. Will they sway CAVE men and women? Will they finally opt for the metal-dependent “Kumbaya” green future they purport to embrace? Will they acquiesce in condemning Afghanis to literal serfdom under to corrupt Afghani overlords and their Chinese counterparts?

Just as one never knows the true value of a mine until the last ounce of ore is processed, we can never know the true value of a brief story on the NewsHour. Perhaps someone at one of our leading universities will wake up one morning and announce in no uncertain terms that mining in America is a good thing. Mining can be done in a safe and environmentally sound manner everywhere just as it is done here in Alaska.

The imaginary case for adverse impacts on streams and other “waters of the United States” is ridiculous. Pebble should be allowed to go through the permitting process. Coal from Chuitna and north of the Brooks Range should be mined. Many other deposits and resources throughout the state that pose neither a risk to human health or to the environment should be developed – not immediately, but over time. Hopefully, the blind will one day see, and the idea that careful resource development is reasonable and appropriate will gain some traction.

Notably, the Gulf of Mexico oil leak is capturing the attention of the working press. Ironically, the fallout is landing on the heads of the company and the country for their confused mismanagement of the response. The commentators have not failed to notice that a lack of oil onshore and shallow water oil reserves is not the reason for drilling a mile under the ocean. Instead, it is the unwillingness of state and federal governments to foster oil recovery from more proximate shallow locations or onshore where we would have greater capability to contain a spill. Wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a future where CAVE men and CAVE women could join hands with those who actually produce something in the sure and certain knowledge that the resources which originate on our own soil well serves us all.

I must be drinking Kool-Aid.



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