PUSH BACK CAN WORK
Commentary by Harold Hough Aug/Sept 2010
There is good news and bad news for the mining industry. The bad news is that many environmentalists still insist the industry is the destroyer of planets. The good news is that a mining company with a good PR campaign can turn opinion around.
There is no better example than the Rosemont Mine south of Tucson. Three years ago Augusta Resources (the mine’s parent company) carried out a public relations campaign so bad that even pro mining politicians were deserting to the anti-mining side. Not only did they ruin the chances of opening a mine, they gave one of the most anti-mining congressmen, Raul Grijalva, an incident to rally opposition to the 1872 Mining Law.
Augusta had jumped through the regulatory hoops; gotten National Forest Service approval and made arrangements to buy the water needed to recharge the aquifer. But, they had failed to build community support for the project and assumed that hiring a local PR firm would solve any problems. They were wrong. A community that couldn’t even agree on garbage fees was nearly unanimous in their dislike for the Rosemont Mine project.
Enter Congressman Raul Grijalva, the third most liberal congressman in the House. Augusta’s missteps gave him all he needed to attack mining. He used the Rosemont project as an excuse to introduce legislation to severely restrict mining in Southern Arizona, a world class copper mining district. He also held hearings on Augusta’s project that were geared to promote the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act which passed the House, which if it had become law would gut the 1872 Mining Law.
That was the bad news. Here is the good news. What Rosemont has done in the last few months shows that a mining company can bounce back. Instead of hiring a public relations firm with a bunch of three piece suits, they brought on board people who knew the community, especially the local politics.
They also re-geared their approach to the community. They sponsored local country music concerts like Freedom Fest 2010. Rosemont Copper President and CEO Rod Pace became available for interviews and was frequently seen at community events. They also had tours of the proposed mine for the public. This was combined with an aggressive advertising campaign that touted the economic advantages of the mine.
The mine tours were specifically successful. Project Site Coordinator Dennis Fischer took interested parties on a two part tour – a presentation and a tour of the actual site. The presentation covered the geogology, history, and proposed mine operation. It included what the mine was doing to protect the environment and living conditions. It also addressed environmental arguments in a clear, no nonsense manner that the average person appreciates.
The presentation was followed by a visit to the mine site. This reinforced the presentation and proved that many of the environmental claims were baseless. According to Fischer, 80% of the people who take the tour are convinced that the mine will be environmentally safe and a benefit to the local economy. Although not everyone will be able to take the tour, those who do go can influence many undecided citizens.
Rosement has also managed to bypass the local newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star (which is opposed to the mine), with aggressive advertising that goes over the heads of the media directly to the voters. In an economy where good jobs are rare, younger voters are listening carefully the Rosemont message and the economic analysis that the mine will bring 2,100 new jobs to the Tucson area.
Although Rosemont still has many hurdles to overcome, thanks to an anti-mining administration, public perceptions are changing in the community. Congressional candidates in a nearby district, where many of the workers will come from are endorsing the mine as an economic stimulus for the area.
The Rosemont Mine is proof that mines can win the public relations battle if they try. It takes openness, a willingness to spend some money in media buys, and actually reaching out to the public. Its actions will become a blueprint for other mines in the future.