Can potential cobalt mine in Utah free Congolese children from forced labor?

Child miners in Congo

…it’s important to note that today most cobalt used for so-called “green technologies” is produced in third-world countries, such as Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where environmental regulations are few, and human rights are superseded by commercial interests.

Commentary by Marjorie Haun

It’s always amusing to see environmentalist interests at odds with one another, and the hypocrisy revealed when such conundrums erupt. A Canadian firm looking for cobalt within the old boundaries of President Clinton’s massive Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may be igniting just such a dilemma.

After two decades of outcry from Utah leaders and locals, President Trump responded in December of 2017, and reconfigured and broke up, via the Antiquities Act–the same executive tool Clinton used to lock up nearly 2 million acres in southern Utah–the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument (GSENM). Rural communities rejoiced, but predictably, green groups freaked over the removal of crippling federal restrictions from a few hundred thousand acres in Utah’s remotest sagebrush country. Anti-development fear-mongering began long before Trump announced changes to the monument’s boundaries, and for nearly a year, big greens including EarthJustice and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), have been using hysterical messaging about mining and other extraction industries in fundraising campaigns.

Interestingly, one of the more serious proposals for mining within the GSENM’s former boundaries comes from the Canadian company, Glacier Lake Resources, which hopes to find a viable supply of cobalt, a key element in the manufacturing of electric car batteries. As part of a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over the changes in GSENM, several green groups filed a request in federal court to have advanced notice for mining proposals in the area. It appears the green groups are looking for a means to forestall environmental review processes that may be initiated by mining interests and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). But this tactic has both human rights and environmental implications that may pit green groups against their purported ideals.

On September 11, Amy Joi O’Donoghue reported in the Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — Fearing mining activity looms inside the former boundaries of two Utah monuments, environmental groups and Native American tribes want a federal judge to require advance public notice before any ground-disturbing activity occurs.

A federal judge agreed to hold a hearing Thursday on the matter as part of a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration over the reduction in boundaries at the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

In a request filed before Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, the groups say notice should be required for any activity within the former monument boundaries that would have been prohibited under the prior designations.

“Without this notice, plaintiffs are unable to preserve the status quo or know when their interests have been affected, ” the court document reads.

The suit, which is before the D.C. federal court, was filed after President Donald Trump announced the boundary reductions in Salt Lake City last December.

Plaintiffs include multiple groups like Earthjustice, Utah Dine Bikeyah and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, as well as multiple tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo.

They assert the reductions fall outside the scope of the president’s authority and are therefore illegal.

In June, a Canadian-based company announced intentions to begin exploratory activity on land at Colt Mesa, which was inside the former boundaries of Grand Staircase.

Although the Bureau of Land Management has mining claims on file involving land inside the former monument boundary, no mining plans of operations have been filed, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The BLM said any surface disturbance greater than five acres requires the mining plan and a reclamation bond. Any agency approval first requires an environmental analysis which includes public comment.

Although the groups suing the Trump administration sought advanced notice of activity in January, Chutkan declined to approve the request.

The announcement this summer by Glacier Lake Resources involving planned activity at Colt Mesa drove the groups to renew their request.

The Canadian-based company said investor interest in cobalt — used in the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries — is on the uptick.

Continue reading here

North American cobalt mining presents a dilemma for hysterical green groups and their urban comrades pushing for the expansion of electric car sales and subsidies. But it’s important to note that today most cobalt used for so-called “green technologies” is produced in third-world countries, such as Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where environmental regulations are few, and human rights are superseded by commercial interests.

In August of 2017, a Forbes report detailed the environmental downside of the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind turbines which use rare earth minerals, most of which are obtained from third-world nations.

As an initial matter, the production of batteries requires the mining of many metals and minerals. Mining for lithium, graphite, cobalt, nickel, and other materials create substantial environmental harm. For example, producing lithium from ore “requires land use changes – clearing land, digging mines and storing waste rock. Significant energy and chemical use are also needed to obtain to the final product,” Energy Post notes. The alternative means of producing lithium, from naturally occurring underground brine, requires pumping the brine from underground and creating large ponds for brine evaporation. This “can impact water supply in desert areas. It also uses some chemicals for purification,” Energy Post notes.

Interestingly, most of the cobalt used for smart phones and various “green” technologies, is extracted in the Congo, where young children are often conscripted to work in the mines.

Graphic found in Energy Post

If America’s green groups are as “compassionate” as they want you and I to believe, there is only one solution to this mining conundrum. EMBRACE THE UTAH COBALT MINE. Everyone wins. Every body gets to keep their smart phones. Urban conservationists can have guilt-free batteries for their electric cars. Miners get jobs in a highly-regulated industry that will help fund Utah’s public schools and revitalize southern Utah’s rural economies, and most importantly, the demand for Congolese child labor will decrease.


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