On the heels of the Obama administration clamping down on oil and gas exploration and President Obama declaring what many consider to be a war on coal, environmental groups are now urging the government to deny exploration of the world's largest known copper reserve before the permitting process even begins.
The Pebble Mine in Alaska could produce more than 80 billion pounds of copper, an amount that could wipe out America's need to import the element. Currently, some 35 percent of the copper used in the U.S. is brought in from foreign sources.
Dan McGroarty is president of the American Resources Policy Network. He told WND it's no surprise that environmental groups are opposed to a Pebble Mine, but he said activists don't even want the idea to be considered.
"It's entirely legitimate to examine whether any mine project that's actually put into the permitting process for its impacts and for ways to mitigate them and weigh out the competing public goods that one has. What's dramatically different in this instance is that many environmental groups are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exert a unilateral power to stop the mine project from even going into the permitting process. In other words, there will be no permitting process. They would simply say the mine can't go forward. End of story," said McGroarty, who explained that the permitting process is a very long and detailed experience that goes over every detail of a proposal.
"When a mining project goes into the permitting process, there are local avenues for some of the permits; there are state avenues for some of the permits and federal as well," McGroarty said. "So it's multi-layered, and it takes an average of seven to 10 years for a mine to get through that process once begun. I have looked at Pebble, and my understanding is that they would require upward of 60 different types of permits from the state, local and federal levels. So there would be an enormous amount of scrutiny put on the mine plan.
"What some of the environmental groups are saying is they don't want that process to even begin. Pebble has no mine plan right now. They have not submitted anything for review, so this is about stopping for the first time a mine from even entering the permitting process," he said.
So does the EPA have the power to unilaterally veto a mining plan before the permit process begins? McGroarty said that's actually up to the EPA itself.
"It is a matter of the EPA being urged to interpret the powers it already has to allow this sort of veto activity. They're using a section of the Clean Water Act, which dates back 40-plus years, and interpreting it in a way that would allow them to stop this project from going into the permitting process to stop it before it begins," he said. "If EPA does this, they will be granting themselves the authority to do this. I must say, Pebble might be the first mine and copper the first metal, but it will by no means stop with one mine, and it will effect many different metals if the EPA takes that power."
McGroarty said if the EPA starts down this road, the economic impact on this nation could be immense.
"There's an independent study that indicates that over $200 billion of planned economic activity in the United States actually runs through Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. That would put the EPA in a position of thumbs up, thumbs down on an enormous amount of economic activity. That is something no agency should be allowed to do without other parts of the government being able to look at that and see whether that's what they intended," he said.
Beyond the alleged push for a major government power grab, McGroarty said the environmental lobby's arguments on Pebble aren't even logically consistent. In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, he quoted Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council as saying, "We view (Pebble) as one of the worst projects anywhere in the world today."
McGroarty said by removing our need for imported copper, the U.S. would stop doing business with mines in the Congo, where 8-year-old slave labor is brutally forced to extract the resources, or in Zambia, where Chinese-owned mines don't even provide their workers safe breathing equipment or leak-proof boots. He contends those conditions are far worse than anything that would make it through the government permit approval process.
Furthermore, he contended that opposition to copper mining projects like Pebble undermines the green agenda. He explained that copper is vital for transitioning to renewable energies, and the environmental groups are blocking their own goals with these tactics.
"Some of the environmental groups who are opposing this copper mining outright are otherwise touting on their websites and in their talking points a transition to green energy. That is they want to get their power from the sun, from the wind, geothermal for instance. Every one of those utilities actually uses copper in order to make that power effective," McGroarty said.
"A single industrial wind turbine uses upward of three tons of copper for just one wind turbine. Solar panels use a composite called CIGS. 'C' for copper. 'S' on the other end for selenium, a metal that is also derived from copper. And then geothermal, which basically delivers power through copper coils. Of course, all those means are delivering power to the national grid through copper cables," he said.