This spring, Gov. Otter and other state officials went on a tour to Toronto and New York to invite mining companies to explore and develop new mines in Idaho.

The governor was accompanied by several representatives from the mining industry.

Streams and Forests Can Be More Precious Than Gold

Idaho has a rich mining history but it turns out that the streams and forests can be worth even more when left intact and undisturbed by mining activities. The mining industry, while it can be important locally, represents less than 1% of Idaho’s economy and is also the largest polluter in the United States, while tourism is Idaho’s third largest industry behind agriculture and technology.

While the majority of tourism dollars come from out of state, keeping our great outdoors great benefits in-state tourism as well and is also the reason most residents live in Idaho. Hunting and fishing in Idaho represent 7% of our economy.

The ability to access mountains and rivers that are still pristine is one of the reasons younger folks are deciding to stay in Idaho instead of moving elsewhere.

We Need Responsible – Not High Risk – Mining

It is important to recognize that agriculture, technology and tourism (as well as our civilization) are all dependent on mining in some way, shape or form.

This is why ICL supports responsible mining. The problem is when the gold, molybdenum or other ore plays out, the companies – and jobs – move on while the mining waste is left behind. Or, even worse, the mine waste starts to be carried downstream and violates water quality. All too often, downstream communities are left with both polluted water and the cleanup costs.

Some of these problems are due to historic mines such as the Triumph Mine.

But even modern mining has been shown to damage fish habitat far downstream.

We need to keep in mind the potential long-term negative impacts of mining before we start promoting several high-risk mining projects proposed by Canadian mining corporations. These projects include the Kilgore Gold exploration project  in the headwaters of Camas Creek and Mud Lake in eastern Idaho, the CuMo molybdenum project  upstream of the  city of Boise, and the Stibnite Gold project  in the headwaters of the South Fork Salmon River.

Rollbacks on Critical Safeguards

At the same time, the mining industry has been busy lobbying back in D.C., trying remove environmental safeguards and expedite the removal of certain minerals. While the original proposal was limited to minerals deemed critical to our national defense, the list was amended to include noncritical minerals such as gold, molybdenum and gravel.

If Congress enacts these changes, it would be even easier for foreign mining companies to mine and take ownership of these presumably strategic minerals. The result is that American citizens will have to buy them back from these foreign corporations. If these minerals really are a national security interest, the most secure place to store them is underground exactly where they currently are.

Ironically, President Trump recently stated that  Canada – one of the nations that we would be handing these critical minerals over to – also posed a national security concern which is why the U.S. has imposed tariffs on Canadian steel imports.

These rollbacks also increase the long-term risks to downstream communities and decrease the accountability of mining companies. The latest draft allows for  mining projects to be reclassified as high-priority infrastructure projects. While stating that the goal is to eliminate inefficiencies, this new process would force agencies to rush through the process and limit  public and judicial review.

On top of this giveaway, hardrock mining companies already do not pay any royalties on the billions of dollars of metals removed from public land (oil and gas companies do pay royalties).

So while we would like to see a responsible mining company be successful and prove to be a good steward of Idaho’s environment, we are also seeing the critical safeguards needed to protect our communities and economy being undermined at multiple levels.

Let’s make sure that a sector that represents 1% of Idaho’s economy doesn’t grow at the expense of the reasons we live, work and raise our families here.

What You Can Do

To learn more about projects like the CuMo mine and what you can do to protect our quality of life, we are having a special event on Monday, July 2 at the ICL Boise office from 5:30-7:30. Join us!