Optimism Rises in the Mining Business
To say the mood at this year’s annual meeting of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) was noticeably upbeat would be an understatement. The event opened with a keynote address from Doug Silver, portfolio manager for Orion Mine Finance. Readers might recall that Orion financed the Stornaway diamond project in Canada. Silver was guardedly optimistic as many of the seasoned professionals in the mining business are these days. He pondered the industry’s ability to find financing and whether traditional financiers may already be too late for the next upward cycle.
The annual SME meeting took place in Denver this year and the technical sessions were packed with engineers as they normally are, but the biggest difference was the demeanor among the delegates. For the last eight years, this has been a depressed group of beat down dogs, as the despair from regulatory overreach took its toll. This year, however, they were standing tall, proud and happy.
Aside from the coal operators, I would not categorize all of the SME members that I spoke to as President Donald Trump fans, but they like the direction he is headed and his cabinet picks, and most said to give the guy a chance. They were not gloating over a major political victory, but they realize they have a huge opportunity to advance a sensible mining agenda for the next four years at least.
Much of the conversation revolved around the actions the new administration had taken and more importantly, the appointments being made. Just before the SME event kicked off, President Trump repealed the Stream Protection Rule (see This Month in Coal) and named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And there was a lot of speculation as to what will happen with leadership at the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA).
Before Pruitt had spoken publicly, environmental activists were blasting the decision as he was the top lawyer for one of 27 states suing the Obama administration and the EPA for regulatory overreach. His confirmation was seen by many delegates as a dose of common sense for an agency that had been hijacked by environmental activists, fixated on climate change and willing to impose massive costs to advance its agenda with little or no gain. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Pruitt explained that he thought the agency should enforce the laws on the books and it should not be promulgating new rules, and that much of the power should be returned to the states.
As he begins the process of reorganizing the EPA to focus on practical environmental issues, Pruitt probably has 500 items on his “to-do list.” But, we would like to add one more. He could score big points with the public and earn the respect of environmentalists by simply cleaning up some of the Superfund sites in the West. The new agency should consider a partnership with the mining industry where good Samaritan policies would protect mining companies, universities and engineering firms from liabilities as they help mitigate these problems. The industry has some of the brightest minds who want to work on these projects in their backyards, but they won’t touch them for fear of litigation.
Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ