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Guest view: Montana's union miners supply America

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Building a stronger, more resilient nation in the wake of COVID-19 means transforming the economy, upgrading the infrastructure that ties the country together and better protecting the natural resources crucial for prosperity.

While all Americans share the responsibility of forging this brighter future, Montana’s skilled and environmentally focused union miners have a historic opportunity to lead the way.

About 1,600 members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 11-0001 at Sibanye-Stillwater take great pride in responsibly mining the metals needed for clean energy generation, electronic components, building construction and many other industries.

As vital as these workers already are, the nation will depend on them more than ever when the president’s infrastructure program—the American Jobs Plan—unleashes unprecedented investments in roads and bridges as well as schools, airports, water systems, railroads and public transit, renewable energy and broadband networks.

For example, miners will experience increased demand for platinum, a key ingredient for the glass that’s used in electronics and construction. The country also will need copper for wiring and nickel for the stainless steel that provides the backbone for bridges, roofs, building fixtures and rail cars.

And as the nation strives to grow its clean economy, it will require more of the raw materials that go into wind turbines and solar panels as well as the fuel cells that help power electric vehicles.

Significant, sustained investments in these projects will support good-paying mining and manufacturing jobs for decades to come, and the USW launched its “We Supply America” campaign to ensure that’s exactly what happens.

The nation’s safety and prosperity depend on upgrading infrastructure with raw materials and goods produced by American workers, especially following a pandemic in which shortages of face masks and other products revealed an urgent need to ramp up the nation’s manufacturing capacity.

Empowering the American Jobs Plan is one way that Montana’s union miners can guide the nation to a bolder, better future. These workers’ tireless stewardship of the environment also provides a roadmap as the country strives for a more sustainable economy.

Like so many Montanans, the miners at Sibanye-Stillwater enjoy fishing, hunting, camping, boating and the many other outdoor activities that make this part of the country such a special place.

At work, they put their respect for the environment into action. They’re committed to efficient blasting and proper equipment maintenance. They carpool to reduce traffic on rural roads. And their diligence ensures the company’s compliance not only with federal, state and local environmental laws but the 21-year-old “Good Neighbor Agreement” between Sibanye-Stillwater and community groups.

USW members safely operate mines amid streams and forested areas and deliver a tremendous economic impact, all with the support of local residents.

The American Jobs Plan envisions not only expanding this kind of sustainable production but harnessing its potential as an economic driver. The plan calls for sweeping investments in clean manufacturing equipment, renewable energy and energy efficiency. And just as the miners at Sibanye-Stillwater do through ongoing reclamation projects, the American Jobs Plan makes conservation a priority on par with production.

As much as Montanans care for their natural resources, they know they can take even further steps to safeguard the air, water and forests. A national infrastructure program would help.

The American Jobs Plan calls for investments in stormwater and wastewater systems to decrease pollution risks from aging pipes and failing septic tanks. It aims to shore up dilapidated dams that pose flooding risks and replace lead-tainted pipes that imperil drinking water supplies.

On top of those benefits, Montanans can expect support for roads and schools and the extension of broadband to parts of the state currently without it.

A national infrastructure program would provide a once-in-a-generation boost to Montana’s workers, economy and environment.

And it would enable USW members at Sibanye-Stillwater to use their skills and dedication to help blaze America’s path forward.

Ed Lorash is president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 11-0001, representing workers at Sibanye-Stillwater. Frank Szollosi is executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, the state’s oldest, largest and most effective wildlife conservation organization.


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