By SUZANNE DOWNING
The permanent bureaucracy has done it again, driving another stake through the heart of the Pebble Project in southwestern Alaska, a project on land owned by the State of Alaska and set aside during Statehood for mining because it’s one of the largest copper and gold deposits in the world.
The decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to not allow Pebble to finish the permitting process came days after a similar decision knocked the legs out from under the Twin Metals copper and nickel project in northeast Minnesota.
Pebble is the most misunderstood and unloved mine proposal in America. But the question has to be asked: Does mining have a future in the green-energy America envisioned by environmentalists, or will it be outsourced to places Americans don’t know about and don’t care about? In the greening of American energy, where in the world will we get the minerals needed to actually live the low-carbon dream?
If the S&P Global’s 2022 report is correct, the demand for copper will double by 2035. Some hope America can recycle its way out of the looming copper shortage. That’s a fantasy; already, recycled copper supplies 34% of the U.S. market’s demand for refined copper. Under no scenario will America be able to recycle what the new electrified future craves, which is copper and more copper, according to Daniel Yergin, S&P Global’s vice chairman.
Unwilling to mine in a regulated and bonded environment of its own, the nation will have to look to other countries for copper, nickel, and the minerals critical to the life that policymakers are crafting for us. As China rebounds, it is on the verge of having an insatiable appetite for copper to provide tech toys for Americans.
Perhaps the world can rely on Chile, the world’s largest copper supplier. Chile has the two largest copper mines in the world, after all.
Maybe not. Chile is fraught with protests, strikes, slowdowns, and stoppages, making one third of the world’s copper supply no sure bet, if things take a turn for the worse.
There is plenty of history to concern us: Chile nationalized its copper mines under the Marxist government of Salvador Allende in the 1970s. Chileans spent the last two years writing a new constitution, but in the end, the final rewritten constitution was rejected by the plebiscite in September.
Leaders from both parties are now back at the drawing table, but rewriting a constitution is a tricky undertaking that can go a number of directions, including revolution.
How about Peru? The Andean nation that provides nearly 10% of the world’s copper production is in upheaval, with social unrest, violent protests, and mine takeovers threatening the country’s GDP. This No. 2 supplier of copper is going through a dangerous political patch; since December, 48 people have died in violent uprisings, the worst in 20 years. Fitch Ratings revised the outlook for Peru from stable to negative in October.
Maybe the world can get copper from China, coming in at supplier No. 3. The People’s Republic of China not only mines the copper it needs to manufacture goods, it’s the largest consumer of copper in the world, and imports what it needs to make the gizmos and gadgets that we want.
China produced 10.49 million tons in 2022, and imported another 23 million tons. In addition, China has the kind of issues about which Americans should have legitimate concerns: slave labor, human rights abuses, environmental standards, and the urge for global domination, to name a few.
Down the list we go. We could get copper from the Congo. Yeah … no. The child labor, the lack of health, safety and worker protections, and government corruption create cognitive dissonance for the environmental community and its bookends of Marxism and communism. No amount of magical thinking can erase the image of six-year-olds working in mines.
The safest place to mine copper is in the United States. It’s safer for the environment and it’s safer for people.
The Pebble Project is 100 miles from Bristol Bay, farther than the distance between Sacramento and San Francisco Bay. It is farther than the distance between New York and Pittsburgh or Chicago and Rockford. It’s twice the distance between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
Yet Pebble was cynically hijacked decades ago by the Left and made into the boogyman. Anti-Pebble activism has become a nonprofit money-raising racket.
The problem for never-Pebble people is that they want the green toys, but don’t want to acknowledge the mining needed to make those toys.
Thus, America and the world face accelerating scarcity imposed by the legionnaires of the Left who are making the oldest metal known to man into a precious metal that, if this trend continues, even the U.S. Mint won’t be able to afford.
Suzanne Downing is the publisher of Must Read Alaska.