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The Enviro Conundrum: For Copper, Against Mining It

Joseph Moser over at The Daily Caller makes an important point in his recent piece on the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska:

Recently, the EPA declared a new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 34.1 mpg by 2016. Going a step further, the NRDC is demanding Obama administration officials set even stronger global warming pollution and fuel-efficiency standards to ensure cars and trucks average at least 60 mpg by 2025. The hope is that higher standards and government “incentives” will encourage automakers to produce more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric cars.

One problem: the more electric a vehicle is, the more copper it contains.

Each hybrid contains about 100 pounds of copper — most of that is in the electrical cables and the electric motor. A conventional car only contains about 50 pounds of copper.

Many green groups are uniting against a proposed mining operation in Bristol Bay, Alaska. They have engaged in their typical stunts of recruiting high profile actors who are wealthy beyond belief to lend their uninformed opinion that all sorts of economic activity should be stopped. It would nice to see an actor who had a even remote appreciation or understanding into what allowed for our nation and the world to become so wealthy that citizens have disposable income that they are willing to spend watching people act like other people on television and in movies.

But I digress. The proposed Pebble Mine appears to hold some of the largest natural reserves of copper and gold in the world. It is also the home of one of the largest salmon reserves in the world. The mine is north of Bristol Bay, Alaska where the salmon is located. Those in the fishing industry are naturally speaking up loudly against the mine as pollution has the potential to reduce the population of fish in Bristol Bay, threatening their economic interests.

The EPA is currently studying this and will hopefully come to an objective, scientific evaluation of the risks the mine proposes. As we noted previously, Lisa Jackson’s participation in anti-pebble rallies would question her desire to be objective. Of course, some risk should be acceptable to Alaskan’s, even those who fish for a living. Mining jobs tend to pay high wages, and reports indicate that up to 1,000 long term jobs would be developed by the mine in areas of Alaska that are by no means wealthy, as well as power plants to help ease high Alaskan electricity rates.

Moser’s point is important — environmentalists want to massively scale up development of electric vehicles, solar panels, windmills, etc but don’t want to approve of projects that will extract these minerals from the earth. Do they think that these materials are summoned out of the sky? No — you have to dig them up out of the ground, and unfortunately, that disturbs the natural environment. But you can’t have it both ways, and there is no alternative to this.

As Moser notes, cars use a lot of copper. As do solar panels and windmills. Each modern windmill built uses almost 10,000 pounds of copper, which has risen in price by 700 percent in the last 10 years. One way to increase the feasibility of ‘green’ energy development would be to encourage projects such as Pebble which would reduce the price of raw materials used in these projects.

The further irony here is that these actors and large environmental groups are exporting our first-world largesse onto other countries. Mines located in other countries often have horrid safety rates — much worse than those of the United States — and little to no regard for pollution or environmental damage. Just because you can’t see the mines or pollution that exist in China, etc. doesn’t mean they don’t exist. This type of hypocrisy from the environmentalists should be acknowledged more often.

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