2 Feb 2011

Mine or salmon?

The Dec 2010 National Geographic had an interesting story with an important question:

Should we destroy one of the best salmon runs (and natural areas) in the US to build one of the biggest mines in the world? To go from what you see on the right to something closer to what happened in Utah (below)?

The CEO of the mine (and former commissioner of Alaska's Dept of Natural Resources) claims that the "mine design is more environmentally sensitive than ever before," but that's not saying much when we consider the massive pollution linked to current mines.

The article says that income from salmon is $120 million/year, but mine revenue is expected to be $100 - $500 billion in total.

Does this 1,000-fold difference mean that mining should happen? Not necessarily:
  • Salmon income is local and known to the community. Mining income is based on projections; most of it would leave the region.
  • Jobs, cheap energy and economic development. Do we really need this? Some locals want money from the mine, but their jobs may take money, jobs and lifestyle from their neighbors.
  • What about the costs of permitted pollution or effects of catastrophic pollution from the mine?
  • Once the ground is opened, there's no going back. Is this something that we can decide now that will have an impact far into the future? Is it a good idea to leave these decisions to politicians who have election-cycle time horizons? Bush II's administration gave the go-ahead for the mine; Obama's reversed it. Not a very good sign for careful decisions.
  • With fish in decline worldwide, is it good to take out one of the best salmon fisheries in the world? The one that's still described with the word "abundance"?
Bottom Line: We should not decide for the mine until we consider the scale of missing costs and benefits, and their distribution to locals, mining shareholders, and the American people.