To the editor:
Metal mining is poised to resume in the western UP. Will new mines be good for us?
Mining is unsustainable, and never improves environmental quality, but instead essentially all metal mines leave a legacy of disturbed landscapes and pollution. But can the harm done by mining be balanced out by its economic benefits? Does mining always provide a net economic benefit for a community in the first place?
In November we were fortunate to have eminent resource economist Dr. Thomas Power pay us a visit and answer exactly that last question.
Power spoke at Tech, met with local residents in Copper Harbor and Houghton, and presented at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Land of Keweenaw in Baraga. He made the following points:
Mining has both economic benefits and costs.
Unstable metal prices causes economic instability.
Mining-based communities tend to be poorer than non-mining communities.
Those who value a quality of life based on natural amenities will not be attracted to mining communities.
Businesses often don't invest in mining communities because of economic instability and the degraded nature of the landscape, which many entrepreneurs and workers find unappealing.
Supporting local businesses is more economically sustainable than encouraging mining.
Communities should thoroughly evaluate all expected costs and benefits (economic and otherwise) before deciding if a mine should be in their future. Avoid knee-jerk support of or opposition to mining!
Also apparent from Power's comments was that mining creates both winners and losers:
Only a small fraction of a mine's wealth stays in the local economy. Most goes to foreign-owned mining companies and their investors.
Miners receive high wages, but those wages are inflated because mines are short term, followed by layoffs.
The community where a mine is located suffers most of the harm, with little economic benefit. Highly-paid miners travel long distances to work, and generally prefer to live in areas not degraded by mining.
A mine in northern Keweenaw County would likely harm the economy and environment there, but the economic impact on areas to the south might be more positive.
So, if a community decides that a particular type of mine in a particular place should not be in their future, what can they do about it?
History is full of success stories, as well as failures, when communities have decided to fight unwanted mines.
Success has required serious commitment and hard work, but success can come.