In Sunday's editorial, Don Smith made several erroneous comments concerning a recent report analyzing the role that metal mining plays in the Alaskan economy. Mr. Smith didn't publish an objective article about the report's findings. Instead of straightforward reporting about Power's critique of the mining industry, Smith chose to present his own biased and inaccurate interpretation of the analysis. Dr. Power simply says: The mining industry in Alaska doesn't pay its fair share, and nearly 50 percent of its benefits are leaving the state.
The fact that Greens Creek hasn't paid any Alaska Mining License Tax due to start-up expenses is absurd. Greens Creek is a subsidiary of London-based mining multinational Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto reported record earnings last year of $1.6 billion.
In addition, Greens Creek provides a good example of the inability of the mining industry to provide a stable economic base. Mr. Smith, being new to town, fails to remember that between 1993 and 1996 the mine closed and left hundreds out of work because of fluctuations in the price of metals. Trends in world metals prices and the economics of mining in Southeast Alaska should not be confused with regulatory costs. When the mine is in operation, Greens Creek's property taxes account for less than one half of 1 percent of Juneau's revenue.
Meanwhile, the mining industry in Alaska takes a heavy toll on Alaska's communities, clean air, clean water and public health. For two years in a row, the Environmental Protection Agency ranked the Greens Creek Mine as the second largest producer of toxic waste among all companies in Alaska. The Greens Creek and Red Dog Mines played major roles in getting Alaska ranked fourth in the nation for toxic waste production.
While Mr. Smith says that the Greens Creek mine is the largest private employer in Juneau with 268 employees, Smith omits the fact that the mine only accounts for 1.4 percent of the total employment in Juneau. We do not wish to discount the worth of these jobs, but the mining industry needs to pay its fair share.
Trends across the West point to mining company after mining company reaping billions of dollars of profit from public resources, then declaring bankruptcy only to leave the public cleaning up industry's mess. As Power's report reinforces, Alaska deserves protection from these mining corporation's clean up costs (stronger reclamation bonding laws), more corporate responsibility, and increased taxes and royalties on the industry to ensure that Lower-48 disasters don't happen here.
Water Quality/Mining Organizer
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
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