Armed with an aggressive lobbying agenda, NMA aims to dispel myths about environmental practices
Mining might seem an old-fashioned occupation, and, indeed, the mining of minerals and metals dates back thousands of years. Yet materials from mines are used in everyday life in all sorts of ways: to provide electricity, to make such products as computers, and much more.
Society can hardly do without the products of mines - or so argues the National Mining Association (NMA), which represents some 325 companies in all aspects of mining, from producers to equipment manufacturers, engineering firms, and consultants. Formed in 1987 through the merger of the National Coal Association, founded in 1917, and the American Mining Congress, founded in 1897, the NMA describes itself as the "voice of the mining industry" in Washington.
"The US not only has the largest coal reserves in the world, we're also the number one metals and minerals producer in the world," notes Luke Popovich, NMA VP of communications. "We produce about 78 different minerals and metals used throughout basic industry - things used in every car, every computer. You wouldn't go to a jewelry store and buy a hunk of copper or molybdenum, but the products you use contain those things."
The NMA has no PR AOR, Popovich says, though it does employ Washington-based Alpine Group for its government relations. Three big topics the group expects to be active in during the 110th Congress are the proposed reform of the 1872 Mining Law, which covers the extraction of gold and other hardrock minerals on public lands; potential legislation that would give tax breaks to companies that use coal as an alternative energy source; and plans to provide subsidies for building plants that convert coal to a liquid that could be used as an alternative to oil.
Communication between the mining industry and environmental groups has sometimes been antagonistic. Bonnie Gestring, Northwest field officer for Earthworks, notes that a number of lawsuits have been filed of late by activist community groups against particular mines in the West, and her group has been actively lobbying to correct what it says is inadequate oversight of mining regulations, disputing what the NMA claims is a very strict regulatory regime.
"The industry in general isn't addressing the issue of water quality protection sufficiently, and I think that is well illustrated with [scientific studies] done reviewing major mines across the West," Gestring says.
But the NMA aims to counter the effects of such opprobrium through outreach, including direct lobbying of lawmakers; advertising in key DC titles like National Journal and Roll Call; ad and lobbying campaigns by the Coal-to-Liquids Coalition, which is backed by a number of labor unions, in addition to the NMA; and efforts like Mine the Vote, which uses electronic communications and door-to-door, get-out-the-vote campaigns and other tactics to rally people and businesses connected with the mining industry to support industry-friendly political candidates and ballot initiatives.
"It's important to talk to your inside people, but you also have to get out and talk to influential audiences outside your industry," including environmental groups, Popovich says. "You can't adopt a Führerbunker approach and dig down in a fortified position and hope you don't feel it."
For years now, environmental groups have complained about what they say are the depredations caused either by mining itself or the products of mines. In the case of mineral mining in the Western US, for instance - the US is the second-largest gold producer in the world, after South Africa - critics say runoff from mines hurts ground and surface water supplies, and endangers wildlife. Playing on the idea of "blood diamonds," the activist groups Oxfam and Earthworks have for some time been rallying against "dirty gold," as they call it.
Coal mining, meanwhile, is also criticized for the damage it causes to the environment, as the product itself, when burned, releases carbon dioxide into the air and, so the argument goes, contributes to global warming. So, like the oil industry, the mining industry provides goods that many people take for granted, but gets the blame for producing those goods. The NMA says its companies not only comply with government laws and regulations, but also undertake voluntary initiatives to go beyond what's required in regard to environmentally responsible mining.
"That's one of the interesting things about this industry: We're among the most loved and, on the other hand, among the most hated," Popovich says. "Greens are trying to drive investment offshore in mineral mining, under the guise of strengthening environmental laws. Our point is that we have a welter of environmental laws now that we're struggling to comply with."
AT A GLANCE
National Mining Association
President and CEO:
Approximately $60 million annually
Key trade titles:
Greenwire, Platts Coal Trader and Coal Daily, National Journal, CQ Weekly
Carol Raulston, SVP of communications
Luke Popovich, VP of communications
Corey Henry, Coal-to-Liquids Coalition director of communications
Government relations agency: