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The Rosemont Copper Mine and the Veles Smelter
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Arizona, the US state where I live, is a mining state.  We extract a lot of mineral wealth from a naturally rich ground.  People here have been mining for almost the past two centuries and the ground has been good to us –  it has produced good jobs, tax revenue and helped to grow our economy. 

We have a new mine slated to come online in the near future, the Rosemont Copper mine in southeastern Arizona not too far from Tucson.  It will have a life span of 20-25 years and will literally produce billions of dollars of wealth, providing jobs, tax revenue and helping to grow our economy.  The Tucson Chamber of Commerce supports the mine and a number of federally elected officials do as well.  But there is opposition to it from a group of environmentalists who value scenery over jobs. 

I’ve been following the news about the smelter in Veles for many years now and the situation is similar to our Rosemont Copper mine.  In the case of Veles, however, there is a small, but very vocal group, who opposes the restart of the smelter through its new owner, Metrudhem. 

For a moment, let’s set aside opinion, hysteria, hyperbole and innuendo and focus on the facts.  First, Metrudhem legally acquired the smelter’s assets, paying good money for the buildings and equipment.  Legally, they have every right to restart the smelter as long as they meet the government’s standards (environmental, safety, etc.).  Legally, they are not responsible for any pollution the smelter caused in the past simply because they did not own it and did not run it.  They are a new company with plans to invest in the smelter, bring it up to the highest standards and put people back to work. So far, so good. 

On the other side, the so-called “greens” are very vocal against a re-start of the smelter.  They claim, without facts, that it will create unacceptable pollution.  They refuse to listen to the new owners and are pressuring the government to deny Metrudhem a certificate to restart the smelter while at the same time encouraging the Veles mayor to create a new zoning plan that will, in effect, prevent the smelter from restarting.  The “greens” simply believe that restarting the smelter will cause death and disfigurement (Actually on this issue I am curious to know how many people in Veles smoke and oppose the smelter – they certainly have no right to do that). 

Coming from a mining state where mines and people co-exist in harmony (for the most part), I know that it is possible to restart the smelter – with the best technology to minimize pollution – and provide good jobs for the people of Veles and tax revenue for the city and country.  This is necessary because the past decade has not been kind to Veles, economically speaking.  Over half of the jobs that were there ten years ago are not there today.  But up to 1,200 direct jobs could be created from a re-start of the smelter and countless others indirectly.   

The Ministry of Environment will only issue a certificate to operate if the smelter meets the government’s requirements and the company has pledged to do this – indeed it is legally obligated to do so.  In fact, the Ministry now insists on meeting EU standards.  For its part, the company has promised to use “best available technologies” in both the production of the lead and zinc and in mitigating the environmental impact in running the smelter.  This is why their publicly stated investment in the restart will run over 150 million dollars, of which two-thirds will be for environmental protection systems.  Good technology is costly and Metrudhem has pledged to make that investment.  If the company restarts the smelter but cannot live up to the EU and government’s ecological standards, it will be shut down, a costly procedure and a waste of their initial 150 million dollar investment.  Investors don’t really have a choice when it comes to fulfilling environmental standards, because they want their investment to work. That is why I know – not believe, but know – that they will do what they say.  

The company has also pledged to clean up the soil, addressing pollution issues that they are not responsible for but want to take care of as a good corporate citizen practicing corporate social responsibility.  Additionally, they will be actively involved in the community in education, sports, charities and the environment.  They will be the model corporate citizen. 

The stakeholders need to find a common solution for this issue based on Macedonian laws. It is these laws that protect the environment and the health of the people while creating conditions for economic growth and a competitive environment for investors to implement investment projects and create jobs. Reasonable people can disagree without being disagreeable.  And reasonable people can also find common ground – if they sit down together and discuss their viewpoints in an open, honest and transparent manner.  I would hope that the “greens” would be able to do this with the new owners, firmly believing that this is not an issue of just jobs or health because both can co-exist.

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Jason Miko
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