"A Dig-In for the Earth" is the title of this weekend's mining reform leadership conference at the University Park Hotel - appropriately being held on Earth Day - to support state mining law campaigns and the Clean Water Act.
The Mineral Policy Center, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the organizer of the conference that continues through Sunday and includes participants from 60 grassroots organizations - including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.One of the key events of the conference is the release of a citizens handbook, "Mines, Storm-water Pollution and You." This 84-page booklet provides an overview of the environmental problems and legal options available to concerned citizens.
Kennecott Corp., Utah's largest mining company, is prominently featured in the booklet as a business that has done much to protect groundwater.
Paul J. Kafer, organizer of the Utah State Association of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry and mining conference participant, said he has had firsthand involvement with Kennecott and has been impressed with its environmental efforts.
"I would hope other U.S. mining facilities would follow Kennecott's lead," Kafer told the Deseret News Editorial Board Friday morning. "For the most part, Kennecott has been a good corporate citizen."
He favors encouraging the company to continue its efforts and particularly to solve water problems in the south Salt Lake Valley.
Philip M. Hocker, president of the Mineral Policy Center, said it's not true that his group is trying to shut down mining.
"We're a research and study organization," he said, explaining he tries to keep an open dialogue with mining companies.
He said the center has been involved with specific mines only twice in recent years. One such mine is in Nevada and the other is outside Yellowstone National Park.
"We don't believe that mine can be developed in an acceptable fashion," Hocker said of the Yellowstone proposal.
The Mineral Policy Center basically wants to educate citizens, lobby and reform mining laws and specifically keep the General Mining Law of 1872 repealed.
The group has no position on wilderness bills, such as Utah's current controversy, but brings such other groups together because of its common thread of environmental protection.
Hocker said there are 557,000 mines in the country and most are environmentally irrelevant. Only 15,000 cause contamination problems, but 100,000 pose safety dangers to the public. His group estimates it would take $32 billion to $72 billion to fix those environmental and safety problems.
He said one old mine near Redding, Calif., produces a ton of stream pollution per day - more than any in the area - and it would take nature alone 3,000 years to stabilize the mine and for pollution to cease.
He recommends getting a realistic start on the problem and doesn't favor more federal controls but believes federal officials need to set a standard policy for all states and get regular funding going.