We’ve the news today that the last remaining primary lead smelter in the US is to close. Probably a good idea and the reason it’s closing is simply because we don’t need it any more. In this sense the hippies have won and a good thing too.
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St. Louis-based Doe Run Co., the world’s third-largest producer of lead from mines, said it will stop smelting operations as part of a $65 million agreement with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Missouri. The company has operated the facility since 1986.
Doe Run said the estimated $100 million cost to build a new facility and meet air-quality standards was too risky.
“We saw no alternative to closing our plant,” Gary Hughes, general manager of Doe Run’s Metals Division, said in a Dec. 14 statement.
The smelter’s announced closing provoked a furor on some conservative Web publications. Newsmax.com reported Dec. 11 that “EPA Rules Force Closure of Last Ammo Maker.” Thetrumpet.com lamented on Nov. 14 that the U.S. “may become dependent on foreign nations for its small-arms ammunition supply chain.”
Only 3% of lead smelted goes into ammo so that’s not really an issue. And we might think that the hippies have won by closing down such a polluting plant but that’s not it either really. If we really needed that lead then the plant would have stayed open because the installation of that pollution control equipment would have been worth it.
No, what’s really happening is that we’ve all taken on board the lesson from Blueprint for Survival, that book from the 1970s that really launched the modern environmental movement. The main insistence in that book about metals and minerals was that we had to move from a “flow” economy to a “stock” one. That is, instead of digging up new minerals and them throwing whatever it was away, we should recycle the minerals and metals that we are using. And that’s exactly what we have done over those decades:
In 2012, about 1.14 million tons of secondary lead was produced, an amount equivalent to 80% of reported domestic lead consumption. Nearly all of it was recovered from old (post-consumer) scrap.
We just don’t need to be producing that much virgin lead from ore because we get the vast majority of what we use from recycling the old things we’d already made of lead: mostly car and truck batteries.
It’s in this sense that I mean the hippies have won. We are, pretty much, with respect to lead at least, in a stock economy, not a flow one.
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