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Sourcing Critical Minerals Without Harming Fish and Wildlife


Tuesday, August 25, 2020   

DENVER -- Colorado's Mineral Belt in the central and southwestern parts of the state is rich in deposits of so-called critical minerals, the kind used to produce everything from smartphones to wind turbines and batteries that power electric vehicles. A new report released today by conservation groups lays out guidelines for sourcing minerals in ways that protect wildlife habitat and the outdoor-recreation economy.

John Gale, conservation director for the group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, said the report's recommendations can help avoid disasters such as the toxic 2015 Gold King Mine spill that turned Colorado's Animas River orange.

"We want to make sure that those minerals, as they're extracted, are done so in a responsible way," Gale said. "And we hope that we've learned from the past. That should teach us something about how we move forward to our mining future here."

The report's guidelines call for any new mining sites to be located far from critical fish and wildlife habitat. They also underscore the need for a transparent proposal process, where all stakeholders, including affected communities and indigenous tribes, have a seat at the table.

The report comes in response to a 2019 executive order issued by the Trump administration outlining a strategy for extracting critical minerals domestically to protect supply chains and national security.

Nearly half of the nation's critical mineral deposits are within trout and salmon habitat, and one in ten deposits lies beneath protected public lands.

Ty Churchwell, mining coordinator of Trout Unlimited's Angler Conservation Program, said some of the current administration's policies could have profound negative impacts.

"Some of them include fast-tracking permitting for new mine-site proposals," Churchwell said. "I think the thing that's probably of most concern to us is opening up what are now currently protected public lands to critical mineral development."

The U.S. currently relies on imports for 31 of the 35 minerals listed by the federal government as critical, many coming from places that lack labor and environmental protections.

Churchwell said the nation will not be able to mine its way out of supply-chain challenges, and points to alternative options, including reclaiming critical minerals through recycling, and reprocessing old mine waste.

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