The last eight or so remaining readers of the Arizona Daily Star had an exciting Sunday morning on Jan. 19 with the front-page announcement that, inside, the Star would weigh trade-offs and take a stand on whether the Rosemont copper mine down in the Santa Ritas should go forward.
I normally don't read the Star, but I noticed this as I, in my kindly, wifely way, got all inky ripping off the front-page spadia (that's what newspaper folk call those annoying ad wrap-arounds) for my husband, who's one of those eight readers. He admits that the paper is awful, but he cannot start the day without the local paper and he also follows the Cats. Naturally, my breath came fast through the removal of other spadias, then through my kindly, wifely extraction of the comics from deep in the ad heap, and the heap's immediate transfer to the recycling bin. (This ritual of dissection and disposal while the coffee is brewing makes Sunday mornings special.)
To tell the truth, my suspense was only about how, not what. While Rosemont is indefensible, and I didn't see how the Star could say otherwise, I've been around long enough to know that the paper's editorial stances—on those occasions when they are not 100 percent poke-your-own-eyes-out lame (domestic abuse must stop!)—are invariably wrong.
I was not disappointed. Tony Davis, the talented environmental reporter who has managed to survive the waves of newsroom cuts, had put together a comprehensive, clear, balanced-but-still-deadly two-page spread on all the issues the mine raises, from the perpetual poisoned lake of avian death to the scope of the 20-year benefit of likely jobs created. I'm holding on to it—it's a valuable guide to a bad idea that, zombielike, keeps threatening to return. (Actually, the spread doesn't mention one pressing issue—valley fever and mass soil disturbance. The Jan. 20 issue of The New Yorker happens to include a long, startling piece about the rise of cocci infections in the Southwest and their association with large earthmoving projects.)
Despite this clear articulation of the evidence within its own pages, the Star editorial board still managed to come to the wrong conclusion, for reasons it declined to really articulate. That's the paper we know and love.
The editors' argument goes like this: "Rosemont Copper has met extensive government requirements to improve its mine proposal, and so it is time to accept that the mine will be built." That's it. The piece goes on for many paragraphs but that really is all they have to offer: The proposal is better than it was, and negotiations have been going for a really long time, so it should go ahead. (By the way, it isn't exactly true that the feds are good with the project: Several agencies that can nix the whole deal haven't signed off.)
Not that the Star thinks that the mine is a good idea—in fact, somewhere near the middle the writers say, "We believe that Rosemont will be able to meet its legal and regulatory obligations. However, that does not mean that building this mine is wise." (Water, you might have heard, is kind of a problem. Specifically, the water table in the Santa Cruz Valley is already overcommitted and mining takes a lot of water. The CAP will not help: California just declared a disaster due to drought, and in any contest between Arizona and California over CAP water there will be no contest. Lettuce vs. Royalty-Free Copper for China? Please.)
And as for all the other problems so nicely laid out by Davis and two graphic designers? "We are satisfied that over the years of analysis and negotiation, those have been mitigated to the extent reasonably possible."
Translation: "OK, look. You have a disease. It's been going on for years now and we're satisfied that everything reasonably possible has been done. It's become tedious for all of us. It's time you accepted death."
Actually, I do not accept. And I have three questions. One is, why does the Star "believe" that the company "is able to meet its . . . obligations?" (Not that it will, you notice, just that it's able to.) Could they throw a little light? Two, isn't that sort of a pathetic argument for a huge, irreversibly destructive project? And three, why now? The ore isn't going anywhere.
Is it because time is running out for Rosemont Copper? The stock price of its Vancouver, B.C.-based parent company, Augusta Resources, has been steadily declining and has now dipped to 2009 levels. Shares at less than $2 means the market does not believe. Oh, but we should. We're sun-dazed, gimme-a-buck-now yokels who should just cut a poor Canadian mining company some slack.
Whatever, people. Whatever you say.