Always a lover of shiny objects, President Trump issued an executive order meant to boost exploration, mining, and processing of “critical minerals” in the United States. This includes “streamlining” the permitting processes meant to protect the environment and public health. (“Streamlining,” as we all know, is Trump-speak for “cutting corners for my BFFs in industry.”) Both the president and Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke highlighted findings from a U.S. Geological Survey report that studied foreign dependence on minerals. Lost on Trump and Zinke were USGS’s warnings of what aggressive mining will bring, including increased mine waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and unsustainable water usage. Was a second chapter just too much to read?
Adding insult to injury is an 1872 law, passed amid hollers of “Go west, young man!,” that lets mining companies extract billions of dollars’ worth of minerals such as gold, copper, and silver on federal lands without paying a cent to taxpayers. A century and a half later—and despite the raging battle over tax reform—nothing’s changed.