Well, I told you you had not heard the end of this.

J.Raymond: “I cannot resist including a hyperlink to a very short synopsis of the Romanian cyanide spill, which should interest anyone involved in this discussion.”

Bob Tyldsley: ” It is apparent to me that we, as an advanced society, require metals and minerals; but, also, that mining screws up the environment. We should charge mine operators large fees to mine public lands and increase onerous regulation. This should raise the cost of mining here to an uneconomic level. The mines would close. Mine operators in third world countries would be happy to fill the gap, netting very little in extra expense for the end user.”


As you might imagine, Jim Whyte, our original Canadian pro-mining maven, who kicked this whole thing off, does not agree. Jim writes:

“Hey, everybody — it’s me. Roseanne Roseannadanna. So I see this fancy-schmancy financial guru Andrew Tobias, reading an e-mail from a Canadian guy, and it’s goin’ on and on and on about mining . . . and he confuses me with Emily Latella! I thought I was gonna DIE! An’ I said, ‘HEY! Andrew Tobias! Whattayadoin’ confusin’ me with Emily Latella? You tryin’ to make me sick or somethin’?’

“Seriously, I’m flattered (or is it flattened?) to see my spleen splattered across your website. And I guess I should be a little bit pleased that it generated so much traffic about La Dolce Gilda. (Shameless hint: this may be a good chance to plug Gilda’s Club, a charitable foundation helping women with cancer, and their families.)

“By the way, remember Emily on ‘conserving our natural racehorses?’ Well, if you don’t, never mind.

“Anyway, this is for you, rather than for the website. I go to your website to read your opinions, not mine. I get enough of mine at work. So does everyone else. Unless you have strong feelings about running more of this, I’m happy to keep this message between us.”

[I do have strong feelings. Jim’s writing is too much fun to keep to myself. But in the interests of time, I have cut it way back. You should be at work by noon.]

“Your vote of confidence in mining reassures me a great deal. Still, what you said about Sen. McCain implies that a pro-mining stand is anti-environmental by definition. It ain’t.

“My dissection of your Omaha trip overdid it, no question, but a chance to spin that kind of rodomontade was just too good to pass up. Overkill or not, my argument still stands: if you oppose mining on the grounds that it is by its nature bad for the environment, you have to be consistent right down the line and go dig with a stick. Just make sure you break the stick over your knee — sawing it is against the rules.

“And there definitely are people and groups that oppose all mining. They say they don’t oppose ‘environmentally responsible’ mining, but then label every project that comes along as irresponsible, no matter what.

“They tie up the approval mechanism, they go to court, they go process-shopping to find a means of stopping the project regardless of its design or its predicted impact. That suggests to me (if I may twist a passage of yours) pressure groups that have ‘not carefully weighed the pros and cons in every instance.’

“And I know you were joking, but consider what you said about people who ‘chimed in on the side of the environmentalists or in defense of arsenic contamination.’ See how you painted it? Pass me that black hard hat — the one with the lamp and the arsenic trioxide stains on it. I have to go kill a few gentle forest creatures. (Now I’m joking too.)

“The Mining Law of 1872 is a separate issue. The Common Law understanding of mineral resources is that they belong to the people, but would not be of any use to the people unless someone came along to dig them up. Digger and people each get a share: thus do mines pay royalties. (Incidentally, that is where the word comes from — proceeds of a sale paid to the Crown.)

“Maybe those royalties are too small, in which case governments ought to increase them — or maybe they’re too large, which means they will be enough to kill a project. That’s one of several thousand questions you have to ask yourself when doing a mine feasibility study. (If you can’t make money on the project on paper, you shouldn’t try doing it on the ground.)

“Hank Gillette says ‘without government intervention many mining companies would do their mining with a total disregard for the environment.’ Maybe, maybe not — can he honestly make that kind of broad-brush statement about people that dig up resources? How many of them does he know?

“More to the point, we don’t live in a world without government intervention. We live, thank goodness, in democracies where the people have made sure their governments do regulate industrial practices.

” I have absolutely no quarrel with forcing mining companies to plan for, and pay for, closure and complete rehabilitation of lands they use. My objection is to pressure groups that block mining projects on the general principle that mining is always and everywhere a bad thing for the environment. That’s not true.

“Mine projects are now only approved when they are designed for closure; those closure costs are paid out of the project’s cash flow, not out of the public purse. [And it’s not always so expensive.] For example, waste rock doesn’t need to go to dumps any more, it can be used for backfill underground, and is ‘cleaned up,’ so to speak, as part of the day-to-day operation. Designing mines for minimum impact is just another part of the job these days.

“The old ways may have turned Butte into a Superfund site, but we are emphatically not talking about the old ways any more. Or at least I’m not.”

Okay. We’re persuaded. (Aren’t we?) In that case, I will allow some mines to remain open.


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