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And the danger is far larger than the derailment of just one mine. Mix the Cantwell approach with traditional “Senatorial courtesy,” and any U.S. project - and the millions and even billions of investment riding on it - would be a single senator away from sudden death at any moment. It's a little like the judge presiding over a trial cutting off the witness on the stand in mid-sentence, and saying: “OK, I've heard enough. Let's just stop here and go with the death penalty.”

For companies in the mining sector, the trial metaphor is apt. There’s a process in place, which in the case of mining projects involving federal lands, includes both state and U.S. Government review. In the case of the Alaskan copper project, no less than 67 federal, state and local agencies are involved in the permitting process. With potential projects already running this governmental gauntlet, do we really want to throw in a “sudden death” provision?

It’s not hard to guess what would happen. In a world where capital is free, we’d see an exodus of mining capital to friendlier countries with mineral wealth - places such as Canada, which boasts 7 provinces among the top 10 best jurisdictions for mining worldwide. (Strangely, despite all that digging, Canada boasts some pretty good salmon, too.)

For years, committed environmentalists have cited the credo: Think Globally, Act Locally. But when it comes to the moral calculus of resource development, do we really do that? Every drop of oil we don’t buy from Canadian oil sands projects is another dollar in the hands of Hugo Chavez, Russian kleptocrats and Middle East potentates. Every pound of copper we fail to mine domestically provides price support for rogue regimes that make life more difficult for their democratic dissidents than a salmon swimming upstream.

As a society, we’re not going to surrender our cellphones and laptops, park our Priuses and bike our way to Walden Pond. So let’s look global reality in the face and find a way to mine the materials we need for modern life right here at home – or admit that the price of our NIMBY preening is paid in pollution, human rights abuses and economic hardship. Just not our own.