Ah, we have to chuckle when we see the latest enthusiasts to stand up in favor of combating climate change: the mining industry.
Here’s the deal: Laura Skaer, director of the Spokane-based Northwest Mining Association, explained recently that mining companies are fighting White House and Congressional efforts to impose a royalty on hardrock mines on public land.
Such a move would bring firms that dig up gold, silver and the like on public land into the same category as those that unearth coal and oil on federal property: They’d pay at least a small fraction of what the minerals are worth to the government. Imposing royalties would end what’s widely viewed — even inside the mining industry — as one of the most anachronistic features of the 1872 Mining Law.
Skaer told to Stephanie Simon of The Wall Street Journal that zinc, molybdenum and other minerals covered by the 137-year-old law are going to be needed for wind turbines, solar panels and other weapons in the fight against global warming. Impose a royalty? No way, Skaer says:
Then we’ve traded our dependence on Mideast oil for a dependence on foreign minerals.
A proposal by Rep. Nick Rahall — a Democrat from coal country, West Virginia, where there’s lotsa tusslin’ about mining, but where at least the government gets cash for the coal taken from public land — is pushing for an 8 percent royalty. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who has some hardrock mines in his state, New Mexico, is looking at 2 percent to 5 percent royalty. Both chair key committees.
The elephant in the Congressional room, of course, is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Usually a dependable friend to environmentalists, Reid’s gotten prickly about hardrock mining reform because one of his state’s leading industries is pulverizing mountains and using cyanide to leach out low concentrations of gold. That’s the way most modern gold mines operate — very different from the miners who arrived in the West on burros, packing cans of beans and pickaxes and searching for nuggets of gold. (More on Reid’s role here.)
Now, as for the mining industry’s newfound love of the movement to head off calamitous climate change: Simon’s story would have been a better one had it pointed out that the mining industry has historically been among those least willing to do much about climate change.
In fact, even as Skaer made this argument that domestic minerals are needed to manufcture wind turbines, sitting on her website was an opinion piece — undated and unsourced, although it looks like WSJ tyepface — arguing that not only is Earth not warming, it’s headed into a cooling period.
Nor is Skaer’s group the only mining group to deny the need to take action on climate. The industry’s overarching lobbying group, the National Mining Association, says doing something about climate change should be predicated on carbon capture and storage — code for doing little or nothing until this Somewhere-Over-the-Rainbow technology is a reality. That group, of course, represents the coal-mining interests that populate Rep. Rahall’s state — and stand to be the biggest losers if greenhouse gas emissions are capped anytime soon.