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Arizona mining fight pits economy, EVs against conservation, culture – The Guardian

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By Ernest Scheyder

SUPERIOR, Ariz. (Reuters) – Early last year, Darrin Lewis paid $800,000 for a hardware store in a tiny Arizona town where mining giant Rio Tinto Plc hopes to build one of the world’s largest underground copper mines.

Rio buys materials from Lewis’s Superior Hardware & Lumber for its Resolution mine site, accounting for a third of the store’s sales and helping to keep it afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

But U.S. President Joe Biden put the mining project on hold last month in response to the concerns of Native Americans who say it will destroy sacred land and of environmentalists who worry it will gobble up water in a drought-stricken state.

That’s fueled anxiety among Lewis and others here in Superior, Arizona, who want to reap the economic benefits of a mine that would harvest more than 40 billion pounds of copper.

“I sunk everything I have into this place,” said Lewis, surrounded by hammer drills, wrenches and other goods in his store. “It would absolutely devastate us if this mine doesn’t open.”

In halting the project, Biden reversed a decision by predecessor Donald Trump that would have given Rio land for the mine. Biden ordered more government analysis of the project.

The ongoing fight pits conservationists and Native Americans against local officials and residents who support its economic benefits. The complex debate is a harbinger of battles to come as the U.S. aims to build more electric vehicles, which use twice as much copper as those with internal combustion engines. The Resolution mine could fill about 25% of the demand for U.S. cooper.

The Arizona dispute centers on Oak Flat Campground, which some Apache consider home to deities known as Ga’an. Religious ceremonies are held at the site, near the San Carlos Apache Reservation, to celebrate teenage girls coming of age. Many Apache have ancestors buried under the volcanic rock.

In 2014, the Obama administration and Congress set in motion a complex process intended to give Rio 3,000 acres of federally-owned land, including the campground, in exchange for 4,500 acres that Rio owns nearby. Biden has paused that transfer.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“If Rio gets this place, then the mine will kill the angels and the deities that live here,” said Wendsler Nosie, a San Carlos Apache tribe member who has led a protest camp for 18 months at the site. A sign there describes the land, known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel in the Western Apache language, as the physical embodiment of the earth’s spirit.

Nosie has marshaled widespread support for his cause, helped by rising global attention to the rights of indigenous peoples. Rio itself fueled that cause last year when it blew up culturally significant Aboriginal rock shelters in Australia.

If the land swap is approved, Rio has said it would keep the campground open for the next few decades before the underground mine causes a crater that would swallow the site. The company has also said it would seek tribal consent for the project and study ways to avoid causing the crater.

“The land exchange gives us the opportunity to collect more data, then we can refine our plans and look for ways that we can do further avoidance and minimization” of site damage, said Vicky Peacey, a senior permitting manager for the Rio project.

Rio, which is based in Australia and the United Kingdom, has also promised to preserve other cultural sites including Apache Leap, a rock cliff that overlooks Superior and where Apaches jumped to their deaths to avoid capture by U.S. troops in the late 19th century.

‘AMERICAN COPPER’

Politicians in Superior – a town of 3,000 residents that voted nearly two-to-one for Democrat Biden last November in a majority-Republican county – are now prodding the president to change his mind.

The land swap, if Biden approves, would also let the town of Superior buy more than 600 acres that officials say is crucial to diversifying the local economy by expanding the airport, developing an industrial park and building affordable housing.

“President Biden is going to have to make some courageous decisions,” said Mayor Mila Besich, a Democrat.

Mining is essential to accomplishing Biden’s goal of expanding EV production, she said. “We’re going to need more American copper,” she said.

While the region has long been popular with hikers and campers, it is better known as the “Copper Corridor,” with mines from Freeport-McMoRan Inc and others.

The closure of the Magma copper mine in 1996 devastated Superior’s economy. Officials have pinned their hopes now on Resolution. Since the copper deposit was first discoved in 1995, Rio and minority partner BHP Group Plc have spent more than $2 billion to dig an exploratory mine shaft and dismantle an old Magma smelter. They have yet to produce any copper. BHP declined to comment.

More than half of the buildings in Superior’s downtown sit empty. Several Tesla Inc charging stations hint at the town’s aspirations to be part of the EV boom. Nikola Corp and Lucid Motors are building their own EV plants less than 50 miles (80 km) away.

Rio has promised to hire 1,400 full-time workers at an average annual salary of more than $100,000. That’s nearly half the population in a town whose median income is a third below the national average.

“What’s sacred to my community is that people have a job and have a home,” said Besich, the mayor.

The mine would boost state, local and federal tax coffers by $280 million annually and add $1 billion to the state’s economy, Arizona’s governor said.

Besich pushed back when studies showed Rio would only pay the town $350,000 a year in taxes, far below the $1 million would need annually for increased police, firefighting and road maintenance.

Rio agreed to pay the town more, to guarantee Superior’s water supply and to donate $1.2 million to the school district. Superintendent Steve Estatico said without Rio’s support the district’s schools – where enrollment has dropped 13 percent since 2016 – may close.

“Rio’s had to learn over the last few years that it cannot take host communities for granted,” Besich said.

STALLED NEGOTIATIONS

The San Carlos Apache – one of the first Native American tribes to endorse Biden’s presidential bid – have not negotiated with Rio because its tribal council favors direct talks with the U.S. government, said Chairman Terry Rambler.

Rio’s copper chief, Bold Baatar, said he hopes to negotiate directly with the tribe when he visits Arizona as early as June, once pandemic restrictions allow.

“We are hearing the concerns from everyone,” Baatar told Reuters. “There will not be a mine until we achieve maximum effort to seek consent.”

Not all local Native Americans oppose the mine. Some members of the White Mountain Apache tribe, whose reservation is just north of the San Carlos Apache’s, say they do not consider the campground a sacred site.

“The belief that the site is religious, that’s news to me,” said Alvena Bush, a White Mountain Apache councilwoman who supports the project.

WATER WORRIES

Rio has dug a mine shaft nearly 7,000 feet (2 km) underground on land it owns near the campground. The bottom of the shaft has become a staging ground for future mining operations.

The miner is draining water from the nearby copper deposit to make it easier to extract. More than 600 gallons of water are pumped each minute to treatment plants on the surface for use in local farming.

Rio plans to mine the copper using a technique known as block caving. It involves carving a cave out of a large section of rock, which then collapses under the weight of the rock above, creating a crater 2 miles (3 km) wide and 1,000 (304 m) feet deep.

This method would damage aquifers that feed two local springs, according to an environmental study from the U.S. Forest Service. The entire mine would reduce available groundwater in the area, which has been in a drought since the late 1990s, the report said.

“This land is going to be worthless if there’s no water to go with it,” said Henry Munoz, who leads a group of retired Superior miners opposed to the project.

Biden is expected to decide later this spring on whether to give Rio the land for the mine. Lewis, the hardware store owner, hopes his plight will be considered among all the competing interests.

“If I had one thing to say to President Biden, it would be: ‘Let the mine open,'” he said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; additional reporting by Caitlin O’Hara, Sandra Stojanovic and Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Amran Abocar and Brian Thevenot)

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Vietnam PM promises economy will rebound from COVID-19 hit | Saltwire – SaltWire Network

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HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam’s exports are likely to rise 10.7% in 2021, with annual inflation expected below 4%, the prime minister said on Wednesday, promising lawmakers that economic revival lay ahead.

Pham Minh Chinh told the national assembly that Vietnam, consistently one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, had been badly hit by the coronavirus, which disrupted its supply chains and hit workers in key industries.

Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted 6.17% in the third quarter of 2021 from a year earlier as the containment measures hit, the sharpest quarterly decline on record.

Chinh said he expected GDP to expand 6.0% to 6.5% next year, with the government aiming to cap inflation at 4%.

“Realising 2022 targets is a heavy task, but we definitely will revive our economy,” he said, despite the pandemic having put macroeconomic stability at risk.

“Inflation is facing upward risks and there have been disruptions in the supply chains … workers’ lives have been badly hit.”

Although Vietnam had largely reined in COVID-19 until May, a fast-spreading outbreak of the Delta variant in its economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City led to wide curbs on movement and commerce, hitting key manufacturing provinces nearby.

This month, the government said Vietnam would miss its garment exports target this year, by $5 billion in the worst case, hit by curbs and a shortage of workers.

It expected $34 billion of textile exports, shy of the targeted $39 billion, and a shortage of 35% to 37% of factory workers by year-end, it said.

Ho Chi Minh City has suffered a mass exodus of workers since lockdowns eased last month, on worries they would get stuck again if there was another wave of infections.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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Opinion | Evergrande Isn’t China’s Only Economic Worry – The New York Times

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Crushed by $300 billion in debt, Evergrande, one of China’s biggest property developers, is sliding toward bankruptcy. This has prompted fears of a wider property crash or even a financial crisis.

But this is hardly the only crisis besieging the government of Xi Jinping. An unexpected electricity shortage threatens to slow down manufacturing. And for the past year, the government has waged a fierce campaign to regulate China’s vibrant internet companies, spurring hundreds of billions of dollars in investor losses.

The common feature of these crises: All were triggered by government policies. In the eyes of Beijing, these policies are meant to fix deep structural problems in the economy and lay more solid foundations for future growth. To many outsiders, they represent a dispiriting retreat from the market-oriented reforms of the past and signal the end of China’s long economic boom. But forecasts of China’s doom are most likely mistaken, as they have so often been.

True, in the latest quarter, economic growth slowed to a crawl, growing by just 0.2 percent compared with the previous quarter. The next several months will be rockier still. Slower growth in China is unwelcome news for a global economy struggling to regain its footing after the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic. But over the next few years, China is likely to regain momentum — in part because of the hard work it is doing now.

The biggest immediate worry is the collapse of Evergrande. Like most Chinese property developers, it relies on two key funding sources: deposits paid by home buyers before construction and huge amounts of debt.

Evergrande’s woes result from a government campaign begun last year to force property developers to reduce their liabilities. It is the latest move in a five-year effort to bring the country’s debt under control. According to the Bank for International Settlements, China’s gross debt level, at 290 percent of G.D.P., has doubled since 2008. While that level is comparable with that of rich countries with well-developed financial systems, it is high for a middle-income country. China’s leaders know that to avoid a financial crisis or avoid a repeat of Japan’s stagnation of the 1990s — the aftermath of a big debt-fueled property bubble — growth in the future must be far less reliant on debt than it has been.

Aly Song/Reuters

The problem is that by attacking debt in the property sector, regulators risk shutting off a powerful engine that directly or indirectly affects as much as a quarter of China’s economic growth. Problems are spreading beyond Evergrande. Other developers are having trouble repaying their debts. And the sales and construction of new housing are both falling.

The drive to cut real estate debt will almost certainly depress China’s growth in the coming quarters. But it will not lead to a “Lehman moment,” when the implosion of a single heavily indebted company triggers a broader financial or economic collapse: The country has an enormous pool of savings. And the government is now adept at managing meltdowns of major companies, including the private conglomerates HNA and Anbang, Baoshang Bank and Huarong, a huge state-owned asset manager.

The larger question is whether China can maintain a dynamic economy when its government, under Mr. Xi, seems increasingly intent on meddling in the market. The answer: Despite a desire for more state discipline, China has not rejected markets — dynamism will continue.

Some of this state meddling is prudent. The property crackdown is part of a serious drive to cure the economy’s addiction to debt. Similarly, the power shortages that have plagued much of industrial China are due largely to efforts to slash the country’s reliance on coal. China has said that its carbon emissions should peak by 2030 and then decline, with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.

One response to the energy shortage has been a long-overdue deregulation of electricity prices. This has allowed generators to pass on some of the impact of higher coal prices to end users. So it is not true that Mr. Xi’s government is implacably anti-market. Beijing, as it has for decades, will continue relying on a combination of state guidance and market forces: The state sets the direction for investment, with day-to-day outcomes dictated by the market.

A more serious concern is the yearlong offensive against privately owned big tech companies, notably e-commerce and the financial technology giant Alibaba, and the ride-hailing company Didi. It’s unclear whether China can ever become a true leader in innovation if it insists on squashing its most successful entrepreneurial businesses.

Yet even here, the story is not black-and-white. The internet crackdown is not really about crushing private enterprise: Private companies in many sectors, including tech hardware, are doing just fine. Rather, the crackdown addresses — in a very authoritarian way — the same anxieties about big tech that governments around the world are grappling with: unaccountable power, monopolistic practices, shoddy consumer protection and the tendency of a tech-heavy economy to drive income inequality.

One final worry is that these moves toward greater state discipline are driven not by economic motives but by Mr. Xi’s desire to reinforce his power, ahead of a Communist Party conference in late 2022 where he expects to gain a third term as the country’s leader. In the long run there is a risk that overly centralized power could degrade the government’s ability to manage the economy. But Mr. Xi also recognizes that his power will not be worth much unless the economy keeps growing.

China will never run its economy in a way that pleases free-market purists. But it has come up with a mixed model that works. And despite the stresses of the moment, it will keep on working.

Arthur Kroeber is a partner and the head of research at Gavekal Dragonomics, a China-focused economic research firm.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Britain’s Royal Mint to extract gold from discarded electronics

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Britain’s Royal Mint said on Wednesday it planned to build a plant in  Wales that could reclaim hundreds of kilograms of gold and other precious metals from electronic waste such as mobile phones and laptops.

Gold and silver are highly conductive and small quantities are embedded in circuit boards and other hardware, along with other precious metals.

Most of this material is never recovered, with discarded electronics often dumped in landfill or incinerated.

The more than 1,100-year old mint said it had partnered with a Canadian start-up called Excir which has developed chemical solutions to extract the metals from the circuit boards.

“It’s able to selectively pull out precious metals with a high degree of purity,” said Sean Millard, the mint’s chief growth officer.

He said the mint was currently using the process at small scale while designing a plant that “would look to process hundreds of tonnes of e-waste per annum, generating hundreds of kilograms of precious metals”.

The plant should be up and running “within the next couple of years”, he said, declining to say how much it would cost.

A kilogram of gold is worth around $55,000 at current prices.

 

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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