By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Aaron Rodgers has faced some of the most ferocious defensive linemen the National Football League has ever unleashed on professional football fields.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback has passed his way to the top of his game, becoming among the most accurate, respected and highest paid players in NFL history.
Now, Rodgers is taking on a much more brutal enemy: The murderous warlords of the Democratic Republic of Congo in command of a civil conflict that has claimed more than 3 million lives.
Green Bay’s QB has signed up as a celebrity front man for Raise Hope for Congo, a campaign of the Enough Project, which aims to end the bloody struggle and advocate for the human rights of Congolese citizens.
A big part of the campaign is educating — some say shaming – U.S. consumers, raising awareness the smart phones, laptops, iPads and the gazillion other electronic gadgets they love and depend on may be made with critical mineral resources mined in places like Congo, where murder, rape and a long list of other atrocities are committed much more frequently than quarterback sacks.
Raise Hope for Congo pressures U.S. manufacturers to stop buying key component metals, such as tin, tantalum and tungsten, that have paid for Congo’s bloody conflict, and urges consumers to stay away from stores that sell products with Congo-mined minerals.
It’s a message that resonates with the U.S. mining industry, according to one mineral resource expert, who has warned for years about America’s growing dependency on unfriendly nations for the products U.S. consumers crave.
During his weekly segment on ESPN Radio in Wisconsin, Rodgers said the Congo campaign picks up on the attention the movie “Blood Diamond” brought to the issue of African diamonds mined to finance bloody conflicts.
“(T)o a similar degree, with Raise Hope for Congo, we’re trying to raise awareness about the minerals that are being used in the smart phones that we love to have on our side all the time,” Rodgers said. “Many of those minerals are conflict minerals that are being used to fuel the war machine over in Congo and some of these groups who are doing some really awful things over there. Obviously, making children into soldiers, just the straight genocide, wiping out entire villages, the raping and pillaging that’s going on over there.”
Rodgers will take the message to Madison on Monday, urging University of Wisconsin-Madison students to demand their school embrace a “conflict-free campus.”
The campaign aims to make UW-Madison the first Big 10 university to sign a resolution pledging to end purchases of consumer electronics manufactured from Congo’s conflict metals. UW would join Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado, among others, in approving such a resolution, “thereby sending a powerful message to electronics companies to clean up their supply chains and ensure their products are not fueling the deadliest conflict since World War II,” according to a sample memo from the Raise Hope for Congo initiative.
Dan McGroarty, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Resources Policy Network, says he applauds Rodgers or anyone else who is taking the time to think about the gadgets we use and the metal in them.
“We take all of this stuff for granted and we shouldn’t,” McGroarty said.
Breaking the chains
There’s a way to attack the problem that too often goes overlooked, to the detriment of the U.S. economy and foreign policy, McGroarty said.
ARPN has for years sounded a clarion call, warning the American public they have become dangerously dependent on other nations for the same critical minerals and metals that exist in abundance in the United States. The think tank “supports the efforts of mining experts who believe that our nation should stand on its own two feet when it comes to supplying certain natural resources.”
Hard to do that, McGroarty says, when the United States is second only to Papua New Guinea among mineral-laden nations for permitting delays, according to mineral industry adviser Behre Dolbear’s 2012 “Where Not to Invest” ranking of countries for mining investment.
Mining advocates like McGroarty contend endless U.S. regulatory roadblocks and an overly aggressive anti-mining movement have led to the longest permitting process in the world. And those delays could be costly to the U.S. economy and national security, according to federal research on critical minerals.
The average U.S. mine permitting process takes anywhere from seven to 10 years. By contrast, Australia’s permitting process is generally completed within two years.
“Minerals, Critical Minerals and the U.S. Economy,” study by the National Research Council of the National Academies, notes “Insufficient investment (in U.S. mining) today can lead to availability restrictions in the future.”
NRC identifies critical minerals as platinum group metals — such as iridium, palladium and ruthenium — and rare earth elements such as cerium, indium and europium. Basically the kind of metals found in all of the household items, the creature comforts we take for granted.
“What is not widely recognized is the dependence of cell phone performance, and therefore the communications system, on a wide variety of minerals, many of which can be scarce or expensive to process,” the report notes.
The green movement, too, depends on critical minerals.
“The new technology of hybrid electric cars requires greater amounts of copper — circa 75 pounds in total, by some estimates,” the National Research Council report notes.
But environmentalists, which often align with human rights causes, are quick to castigate the U.S. mining industry, which supports some 800,000 jobs – about as many as the federal government workers pushed out of work because of the shutdown. And while the green movement works to stall the permit process for new U.S. mines, U.S. corporations and consumers haven’t kicked their craving for products made with critical minerals.
Back in the U.S.A.
“You have two choices if you don’t want to get those metals from DRC Congo or other regions where we have human rights concerns: You can go tech-free and live off the grid and forage for food or you can get your metals from somewhere else,” McGroarty said. “The question is, where else?”
The simple answer, McGroarty said, is the United States, which continues to have some of the most stringent safety regulations in the world and untold untapped resources.
Case in point, the proposed Pebble Limited Partnership mine in Alaska, estimated to hold a half trillion dollars in copper, gold and molybdenum resources. The project, according to an analysis by IHS Global Insight, could bring 15,000 jobs and contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to the U.S. GDP over decades of production. It also could add 2,000 to 3,000 construction jobs to Alaska’s economy and 1,000 mine jobs over 25 to 35 years, not to mention millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue.
But the project could be dead before a plan gets to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has the authority under the Clean Water Act to pre-emptively veto the proposal, something an army of environmentalists and Alaska’s fishing industry has begged the agency to do.
There is concern a large-scale mine could destroy the fishery in the Bristol Bay region, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon population. Mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership has pledged it will build no mine that cannot safely co-exist with the fishing trade, but it may not get the chance to make that case through the usual permit process.
In Wisconsin, too, the environmental left has fought tooth and nail against a proposed open-pit iron-ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill streamlining the state’s mine permit process, to the environmental cries that a mine would rape and pillage northern Wisconsin’s pristine air, water and land.
In June, a dozen or so masked protesters stormed a drill site, swearing at mine contractors conducting pre-mine sampling. One woman, Katie Kloth, wrestled a cell phone from a geologist filming the protesters.
One extreme environmental group seemed to make its mission clear.
“Making the preliminary stages of this mine as expensive as possible to send a clear message to financiers that this is an extremely risky investment is one strategy that was being pursued in the following action,” a blogger writing under the name “some wild coyotes” wrote on the Earth First! news site.
Last month, Anglo American PLC, the biggest player in the Alaska Pebble Limited Partnership, announced plans to pull out of the deal, indicating the regulatory risk was simply too great.
Following the announcement, U.S. Sen.. David Vitter, R-La., called out the Environmental Protection Agency and the threat of EPA’s power to stop the project dead in the water, asserting Anglo American bowed out because of government overreach.
“This is a prime example of why the economy isn’t recovering. EPA and their far-left environmental allies are using unprecedented tactics to shut down potential projects and corresponding jobs before they’ve even begun the permitting process,” said Vitter, top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement.
Raise Hope for Congo isn’t taking a position on the environmental battles in the United States. J.D. Stier said the campaign is about building powerful partnerships to bring attention to the atrocities in eastern Congo and, ultimately, to destroy the capacity there to make war and misery. He said the Packers’ star quarterback is putting his national stature on the line to help in that effort.
“Of course we stand alongside any business that wants to do ethical business somewhere else, but we have a laser-like focus on what has become the deadliest war in the world,” Stier, a Madison and UW alumnus, said.
U.S. businesses must document any purchases of “conflict minerals” under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
“Some estimates suggest that at least half of all SEC issuers will be affected by this rule. In addition, a large number of private companies within issuers’ supply chains are likely to feel the pressures of reporting and due diligence as well,” according to a report.
McGroarty says he salutes Rodgers and the campaign, but he said the effort begs the question, now what? McGroarty believes it is past time to look again to the United States for the minerals and metals it needs, the best way to ruin the ability of bad actors to make war and hold America hostage.
“We’re really paying a price for a federal permitting system that is so onerous,” he said. “Buying somewhere else, that’s not just a dollars-and-cents decision; that’s leverage that can be used against us.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]