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'Boom, Bust, Boom': We Need the Pebble Mine Like the Plague

10/29/2012 01:10 pm 13:10:51 | Updated Dec 29, 2012

Last month, Grover Norquist surprised a lot of people when he appeared to take up the cause of renewable energy, noting in a Politico column that copper is a necessary component of wind turbines. In his view, therefore, we need the proposed Pebble Mine, the massive open-pit copper and gold mine that foreign mining giants Anglo American, Rio Tinto, and Northern Dynasty Minerals propose to build at the headwaters of the incomparable Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery, in southwest Alaska.

If Mr. Norquist would learn a little more about the global copper industry, he might understand that, not only is the Pebble Mine unnecessary, it is precisely what we don't need -- for renewable energy or any other of copper's countless uses today.

In fact, he should read Bill Carter's new book Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs the World, just out from Scribner. Masquerading as the story of his personal journey from Bisbee to Flagstaff, Boom Bust Boom is a riveting expose of the bounty and devastation that is copper -- one of the most ubiquitous elements in the modern world. From copper's myriad everyday uses to the inevitable contamination that accompanies its production in the most massive open-pit mines on the planet, Carter skillfully lays out the arc of his investigation, seamlessly woven into a series of stories, full of personal, historical, and technical information, that lead inexorably to the question whether we can control our appetite for this critical element in order to protect the people and natural resources that make life on Earth worth living.

And, as Carter discusses at length, nowhere is this question posed more clearly today than at the Pebble Mine, where development of the mineral ore will lead unavoidably, inexorably, inevitably to the destruction of one of the world's most productive fisheries and the communities and wildlife that depend on them.

Each year, the commercial and recreational salmon fisheries generate almost $500 million in revenue. Each year, the fishery generates thousands of permanent and temporary jobs, in a sustainable economy that promises countless billions in revenue for centuries to come. And each year, the fishery sustains the people and communities of the Bristol Bay region, as it has done for millennia.

Because the Pebble Mine promises to destroy all of that, it is precisely the kind of project we can no longer afford -- if indeed there ever was a time we could afford such recklessness.

Carter makes clear that, although copper is an essential resource, there are judgments that can and must be made in deciding where, when, and how to mine that resource -- a judgment, for example, to allow development only where, with reasonable certainty, we know that it can be done safely and sustainably, or a judgment to reject development where, as in the case of the Pebble Mine, it promises only to enrich the shareholders of the corporate mining giants who own the Pebble Mine while impoverishing everyone else.

Anglo American, Rio Tinto, and Northern Dynasty might profit financially if Pebble is built. But Alaska will be left holding the toxic waste. It's no surprise that over 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents oppose the Pebble Mine.

And so should all of the rest of us. Take action now to stop the Pebble Mine.