There has been an increase in mining activity across the Black Hills, with numerous proposals to open gold mines or uranium mines or rare earth elements mines for things like lithium.
Most people don't want mines in their backyards. When the Lien family opened a new limestone quarry near Rapid City, I was acting district ranger and I led public meetings about their proposal. Tempers were hot and people were upset. It was public land. It was their backyard.
Uranium is a material we need for many reasons. It would be good to just make a phone call to China and continue to receive all the uranium we want at discounted prices, but it's not smart.
China provides us with over 80 percent of the rare earth elements we use today for things like lithium batteries, car batteries, computer elements, you name it. How is it possible that we would allow ourselves to be strategically dependent on another country, or countries, halfway around the world?
So we are mining these minerals here, at home, where our mines belong. I know uranium is scary to people, but it doesn't have to be. As George Stewart proposed years ago, the Earth does abide. Matter is not destroyed. It is changed from one form to another in an ancient cycle of death and renewal, and it's not just about plants and animals. How long did it take the oil from the Exxon Valdez to find its way back into the ground? How long did it take the Gulf Coast to recover? How long does it take a forest to become a new forest after a forest fire? Not very long.
Congress passed a bill in 1879 that is little changed today. It grants people who find locatable minerals an almost absolute right to test for and then mine those minerals. Even in those days long ago, people understood we would need metals and materials to create things, including the energy we all need. Every time I fire up my computer, coal is burning somewhere. The mighty wind turbine machines are made of metal taken from mines in the ground.
We need uranium, and we especially need rare earth elements to feed our revolution in technology, a way of living never before seen in human history. Do we curse the ingenuity and human inventiveness that allowed us to carry our world in a phone in our pocket? Or do we find ways to ensure supplies of the raw materials we need here at home?
We will mine for uranium and rare earth here in the Black Hills area. When we're done, we'll reclaim the ground for future uses. The minerals and materials we take will serve their purpose and then be taken back into the earth. The huge landfills we are building everywhere now will be the mines of the future where we will go to find gold and aluminum and copper and all the things we need from the Earth.
We are given the mineral gifts of the Earth for our benefit to use responsibly. We protect natural resources because natural resources protect people. If we conserve our resources and use them wisely, the beauty of the natural world is that the Earth does, indeed, abide.