The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Environmentalists aren't all watermelons

Opponents to mineral development invariably employ fiscal tactics; however, that does not mean environmentalists are Communists

Environmentalists are often perceived as watermelons (Green on the outside and Red on the inside) by the business community because of their total disregard of the social costs associated with their advocacy. Certainly, it seems fundamental that they freely embrace fiscal impact in their guerilla attacks; however, implying that they are committed Communists overstates the motivation of all but the most extreme individuals.

For me, the definition of a Communist is someone dedicated to blind social equity characterized by the redistribution of assets by a strong central authority. While that definition may fit some environmentalists, certainly it is not a shoe that can be worn on every foot.

We can all agree, I think, that as the result of their heavy-handed tactics, Draconian rules have emanated from the federal government to preclude the most persnickety of eventualities. The effect, in general has been to achieve positive objectives - a swimmable Lake Erie, for example - through internalizing the burden of toxic discharges to the cost of goods sold.

The regulatory standards, however, divide the productive sector into two camps, those who physically (and financially) can comply and those who are driven out of business. Axiomatically, it is the smaller and more fragile entities that suffer from this paradigm, leaving the field to well-funded, broad-based enterprises that have the commitment to survive.

In Alaska's mining industry, we can easily identify the winners and losers in this context. Two mineral deposits stand out. The first is the huge molybdenum deposit at Quartz Hill within the Misty Fiords National Monument. Notably, although the Misty Fiords area was early-on identified as one of Alaska's "crown jewels" in the jargon of national interest lands enthusiasts, the area where the molybdenum deposit is situated was not included or deemed worthy of protection. Once the deposit was identified (and patented to the claimants), the boundaries of the reservation, which became the Monument, were expanded.

The deposit still could have been developed (witness Greens Creek, which was similarly situated but in a different "crown jewel"); however, the owners of Quartz Hill elected to not make the endless financial commitment needed to fight the battle to a conclusion.

The argument against development was that the mine would adversely impact the salmon population (shades of the Pebble Project!) even though it was demonstrated that the only impact that molybdenum would have on fish was that if they were force-fed enough of it, there would be no room in their stomachs for nutritious food so they would starve to death.

Hundreds of top quality mining jobs at Quartz Hill were lost because of this officious governmental intervention.

Contrast Quartz Hill with the Kensington Project. There the debate was over a perched mountain lake identified as ideal for tailings disposal. The existing lake was very deep, and the depth of the lake inhibited expansion of the fish population, which favored the limited shallows for breeding and rearing.

Confronted with heavy-handed objections by environmentalists and abetted by their fellow travelers inside the Environmental Protection Agency, the owners of the project were compelled and committed to carry their battle to the Supreme Court of the United States for vindication. Now the Kensington Mine burbles along as a compliant producer of gold, a good employer and a contributor to the Juneau tax base. Notably, no salmon were harmed in the making of this project.

There is a virtually endless liturgy of projects in Alaska that fall into this template, and not just mining projects. From one end of the state to another, environmentalists crawl out of the woodwork to whine about how disturbing the countryside will destroy the natural beauty of Alaska or put some critter, whether marine, aquatic, avian or terrestrial at some sort of risk.

The facts, in their book, are just laid out by the proponents of development to confuse the issue. It does not matter that the agencies and regulators the environmentalists themselves created to carry their water at public expense are overseeing the permitting and operation of the projects. In their view, if a project is permitted, no matter how stringent the stipulations, the permitting entity has failed its duty. In brief, no project is a good project.

Environmentalists are not all Communists, but they unequivocally have a blatant disregard for the damage they cause. To call them Reds would be to overstate their level of sophistication, but it cannot be denied that their every campaign incorporates an economic tactic that redounds to the detriment of the community, the state and the nation. As the summer approaches and we all enjoy the watermelons of the season, before you spit a seed or two on the ground, think of the environmental impact.


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