Best Practices for Responsible Mining
We recognize that critical minerals mining will be necessary, but it should be done in a manner that avoids or minimizes harm to fish and wildlife and the habitat they depend on. This requires smart planning, stakeholder collaboration and careful execution. History provides a powerful lesson on what happens when those attributes are absent.
Spurred by the General Mining Act of 1872, anyone with a claim was able to pollute waterways, strip a mountainside or dynamite a hill with little regard to health, safety or environmental impacts. The impacts of those historic mines are still felt today on rivers like the Animas in Colorado and the Clark Fork in Montana. Fast forward to the 21st century and we can see how some of the strongest environmental regulations in the world have stemmed some of the worst effects. However, we must continue to learn, adapt and improve to provide the necessary protections for our land, air and waters.
Mining can be done with a focus on achieving more environmentally and socially-responsible operations. There are examples across the globe of responsible mining practices, and from them we can draw some lessons. We can see how responsible mining means avoiding damage to key fish and wildlife resources, and how rolling back current environmental laws or removing existing protections on public lands would be a step backward. We can apply these lessons to the mines of the future and ensure policies provide a balance between mining and the protection of our environment.
Collecting and sharing data each step of the way is a proven strategy for successful collaboration among mining companies, community stakeholders and agencies. That means providing data on environmental performance and complying with independent reviews. It means providing site-level reporting of performance and monitoring water quality. It also means disclosing environmental incidents so they can be addressed quickly and efficiently.
Responsible mining and the conservation of fish and wildlife means going beyond protections required by the government. This includes working with neighbors to ensure mines protect adjacent private and public land, water and environmental resources. Regular community meetings with company representatives allow interested people to talk about concerns and prevent problems related to mining impacts, reclamation, wildlife and other issues. These open communications can also curb some of the mystery around mines and build trust between stakeholders.
We encourage responsible mines to take extra steps to provide for third-party environmental audits. This can include groundwater monitoring, consistent sampling of surface water and regular assessments of the area’s biologic health. Beyond monitoring, mines can source supplies from responsible companies, locally, when possible. Some mining companies will even take actions that may not make the most fiscal sense, but that are in the best interests of local communities. It builds an abundance of good will and authenticity and doesn’t need to be overly onerous or costly.
It is also important to recognize that some places are simply too sensitive to be mined responsibly. The only acceptable risk is zero risk where irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and special landscapes could be jeopardized.
Lastly, notable mining companies have used their engineering expertise to create inventive and innovative solutions to mining problems, leading to more responsible operations and fewer impacts. Engineers are trained to solve complex problems, like figuring out better access to clean water, a vital resource to mines and communities. Companies have also stepped up with resources and funding to help clean up abandoned mines they had no role in developing.
Irresponsible mining operations that create environmental pollution or that shut out public concerns give the industry a “black-eye” and undercut public trust that new mining projects can be done responsibly. Mining in the U.S. has come far over the past century and a half, and our society is increasingly reliant upon a wide array of minerals that come from the ground. Mining isn’t suitable in all locations, but where mining can be done responsibly, we have the ability to build safer mines with more regard for the surrounding environment and social impacts. Applying the tenets for responsible critical mineral development can help keep us moving in this positive direction.