Rare earth minerals power the world, but mining leaves local and global footprints in the land

By: Matthew Ross

Modern society relies on metals such as copper, gold and nickel for uses ranging from medicine to electronics. Most of these elements are rare in Earth’s crust, so mining them requires displacing vast volumes of dirt and rock. Hard rock mining — so called because it refers to excavating hard minerals, not softer materials such as coal or tar sands — generated $600 billion in revenues worldwide in 2017 (PDF).

The Trump administration has revived several controversial mining proposals that previously were blocked or stalemated. They include the Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay and leasing around Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It also approved a large copper mine in southern Arizona, which was subsequently blocked by a federal court ruling.

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