This I Believe – Ideology versus Reality

Douglas - Sandy, Utah
Entered on March 13, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
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This I Believe – Ideology and Reality

I believe that the way of doing business in today’s market can be protective of the environment; it just takes a shift of the past and current paradigm.

When studying at Plymouth State College during the 1990’s in Plymouth, New Hampshire, I earned a degree in Environmental Biology. Sure I had lingered for a few years thinking of the pursuits of a marketing degree as were many of my friends and classmates. However, such a degree was not where my true ambitions resided. I often heard from friends and fellow classmates that environmental protection was an ideological dream that could only be attained if there was extra money or a regulatory requirement driving responsible parties to perform protection actions. I left college with the idea that big business could still turn a profit while remaining protective and ensuring limited impacts upon the environment.

Upon graduating and moving to Utah I found some truth in what my classmates professed; however, I believed in my own convictions. Working under the Federal Superfund law for state government, I soon saw my ideological dream come to fruition. For over the past 10 years I have been overseeing the cleanup of historic mine wastes at the Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation, Bingham Canyon Mine and milling facilities. At the start of my career, there was great hesitation by the company to pursue the “extra mile” while addressing their environmental liabilities toward the Federal Government. Unless forced by the courts, environmental response action appeared to be headed toward a delay. With a changing of the guard a new generation of mine employees and corporate officers became involved with the environmental response work and a new vision was realized.

Soon there was desire by the mine company to be more receptive to public input in addressing historic mine impacts. There arose a desire to be better corporate neighbors to the communities bordering the mine site; since many of the families that lived nearby also worked for the mine. Corporate officers chose to become more transparent and established cleanups to facilitate the land development. This philosophy would see dividends as the housing market began its rollercoaster ride in today’s global market crunch. Soon high end consumers of metals products would demand a product that was produced in an environmentally responsible way. The corporate philosophy towards producing copper, molybdenum, gold, silver and a host of other metals and by-products would switch to a more sustainable method in terms of preventing long term impacts on the surrounding environment.

Though there are and will always be critics of how to address mine related impacts to the environment, the paradigm is switching. Today’s metal resources can be produced in a manner that reduces the air emission that once wiped out the diversity of life in the canyons surrounding the smelting operations. Mining and milling can proceed in a manner that reduces the influence of acid mine drainage on the limited groundwater resources available to the public in the arid Salt Lake Valley. Mine waste management and land development can proceed in a manner that reduces the potential risk of impacts to soil where population growth will soon cause a substantial increase in residential and commercial land development.

I have seen a corporate entity progress from almost ignoring environmental impacts for over 100 years of mining to now cleaning up the soil and groundwater in an expedited manner. Long gone are the days where cleanups have been held up in the courts because each response action is litigated. The corporate entity agreed it was better to initiate field response work first and then follow such efforts with the negotiation of enforcement documents. A project that could have taken many decades before environmental impacts were addressed has seen remedies implemented without litigation in a little over one decade. For whatever the reason, be it sales, corporate responsibility, or regulation, it still takes a corporate entity to choose to do what is right. Such choice promotes the ideology of my youth that I now see as a reality.