Written by Warren Coalson.
In early April 2016, I attended the CalCIMA legislative conference in Sacramento and walked away from the experience knowing we, as an industry, have to do more effective education and outreach.
This year's legislative agenda was limited to a call for raising tax money to pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvements. This agenda was very difficult for me to accept, as I feel preyed upon by the oppressive burdens of taxation. In California, that's no laughing matter. California boasts of the Nation's highest combined gasoline taxes; 28% higher than the national average, and is second only to New York. However, I understand the industry's motivation. So, like a good soldier, I attended a number of meetings with various Republican legislators in an attempt to encourage support for these directed tax increases. As a group, the Republican legislators are firmly against new tax increases, regardless of their purpose. Having seen revenues intended for infrastructure maintenance redirected to other programs, they are not likely to consider an increase in the public's tax burden.
At the first stop, our group met with the Chief of Staff for Assemblywoman Melissa Melindez (R-Lake Elsinore). In keeping with the party position, the sentiment against raising taxes was relayed to our group, along with the admonishment that the industry does not do a very good job of educating the public about the importance of building materials to local economies. BINGO! I could not have agreed more.
Lack of Community Outreach
Although there are a few operators that actively engage the public, most are simply overwhelmed with running their businesses and prefer to fly under the radar. The thought is - the less noise they make, the less chance there is that somebody will notice them. However, the industry is among the most important of basic industries. The term "Basic Industry" refers to the economic foundation that supports all other commerce. Mining, in general, is a basic industry, as is agriculture, water and fuel supply. Without these basic economic activities, all other economic ventures are not possible. It seems advisable to embrace this importance and educate the public that these basic products play an important role in their everyday lives.
When was the last time a Greenfield site was permitted in Southern California? We have witnessed a continuous decline in permitted aggregate reserves throughout California; a negative public perception makes permitting new sites extremely difficult. Social media is a very effective platform for marshalling opponents to the cause and has eliminated the hope and ability for the industry to continue to "fly under the radar". With the right message and purpose, the mining industry can use these same social media outlets to their benefit.
As a corollary, the environmental movement has done an outstanding job of educating the public about numerous environmental concerns. Over the past 30 years, claims of impending environmental catastrophe have been parroted to our school children. Today, our state and national political agendas are strongly influenced by policies directed at environmental protection and reversal of anthropogenic climate change. Environmental education started in the elementary school classrooms and grew up with our children. Today, an army of environmental activists are found throughout the halls of our statehouses around the country.
Education efforts that provide a one-shot attempt to influence the public are a waste of time. It is only through a continuous chorus of information about the benefits the industry provides to our society will we begin to garner the favored status that we desire and should expect.
Our public education initiative should be presented in the classroom. Through the presentation of a comprehensive program that includes classroom activities and site tours, we can begin to realize an improvement in the public's perception of the industry. This will also result in exposing future generations to the variety of high quality jobs the industry offers.
The California Chapter of Women in Mining has engaged in a variety of educational endeavors in the high desert. Another education and outreach effort focused on the aggregates industry has also been initiated by Project Cornerstone (Project-Cornerstone.org). Over the past year, this program has reached more than 4,000 people through classroom activities, site tours, community events, and presentations to service clubs and community groups in Southern California. The classroom program is designed to address current educational goals by presenting the material in a way the meets the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and California Common Core Standards, through the integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
We need to expand these educational efforts across California to teach future generations about the importance of this industry. We need younger generations to look at the industry with understanding, acceptance and enthusiasm.
Let’s put the focus on our industry and show the state how important we are to its future.