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What do you get when a mining company, a chemicals company and an oil company get together? Probably heartburn, if you're an environmental activist.

But wait, this is the Green Decade, isn't it? And hasn't big business gotten the word that protecting the environment is good business?It has, and the proof could be seen at the Marriott Hotel Tuesday when executives of DuPont and Conoco used the annual convention of the American Mining Congress to present their Environmental Leadership Award, the first of what they believe will become the most prestigious national honor a mining company can receive for protecting the ecology.

Winner of this year's award was Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp. of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, for its diligence over the past six years in protecting the environment at its Thunder Mountain mine in the Middle Fork Salmon River Basin.

DuPont Vice Chairman E.P. Blanchard Jr. presented the award to Dennis E. Wheeler, president and chief executive officer of Coeur d'Alene Mines. Along with the trophy went a $50,000 grant that will be distributed among the University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau, College of Environmental Sciences; the University of Nevada, Mackay School of Mines; and the Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Project in Idaho.

Joyce Kelly, executive director, Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Council, said Coeur d'Alene won despite stiff competition from seven other nominees. It was deemed to be the company "most representative of the spirit and intent of this award" and proof that "mining can be environmentally responsible."

Kelly was the chairwoman of a committee that selected the finalists and the winner. "Our pursuit is simple," said Kelly. "We want to play a part in supporting and recognizing environmental excellence within the metals mining industry."

She said Coeur d'Alene was chosen for its all-around corporate commitment to environmental protection at the Coeur silver mine at Rochester, Nev., and its gold mine reclamation project at Battle Mountain.

Along with Coeur d'Alene, the other finalists in the competition were Beal Mountain Mining Inc., a subsidiary of Pegasus Gold Corp., and Homestake Mining Co. Beal was cited for environmental sensitivity in developing an open pit gold mine and leaching facility near Butte, Mont. Homestake was cited for planning and development of the McLaughlin Mine "in an extremely sensitive environmental setting" north of San Francisco.

The other nominees of the seven original candidates were Kennecott Corp. for its Bingham Mine, Independence Mining Co., Lac Minerals Ltd. and Sonora Mining Corp.

Blanchard said DuPont and Conoco established three basic elements in the awards program: attitude, performance and public perception.

The first, he said, involved promoting recognition that environmental protection is not a "costly nuisance" but an essential part of business that provides a company a competitive advantage. The second, performance, involves goal-setting and achievement in measurable ways. The third, public perception, means that environmental protection performance must not only be achieved but the public must recognize the fact.

"We are in business by public consent," said Blanchard, "and increasingly, that consent depends on environmental performance."

DuPont and Conoco each operate subsidiary companies that serve metals mining. DuPont sells primarily sodium cyanide to the industry and Conoco markets various lubricants. Both companies, he said, have an interest in the safe use and disposal of their products.