The opposition to the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine (including Pima County) hired an economic consultant to argue that the mine would hurt our economy.
In a study released in August, Dr. Thomas Power trashed the traditional “copper cattle and cotton” version of Arizona’s past economic development, and then noted:
Within the amenity-supported economic development model, economic activity follows the residential preferences of the population. Economic activity shifts in this way because the existence of local amenities provides businesses with access to a lower cost skilled labor force and to markets for their goods and services. In essence, because workers and families value local amenities, they are willing to sacrifice a certain amount of income to gain access to those site-specific qualities. They accept lower wages than they could earn in less attractive locations as an effective “price of admission” to what potential residents judge to be a more valuable set of local qualities.
What Power is basically saying is that because we love our scenery, we’re willing to work for less money, and we’re happily exploited by companies wanting to pay low wages because we like the view. And more people would be attracted to live and work in Pima County for lower wages because of our nice scenery.
Power actually goes on and compares Tucson to Phoenix, noting people have to drive farther from their Phoenix homes to get into open space country, citing a Sonoran Desert Institute study:
The greatest competitive advantage that Tucson has over metropolitan Phoenix is its spectacular natural setting with abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation. The natural beauty and environment of Tucson are already in place and remarkably intact. Nature’s bequest of mountains and the desert has been augmented by land use protections that make access easy and affordable. Pima County’s strategy of acquisition with access is in place and successful.
Power does note that besides scenery, other factors contribute to the quality of life that makes an area attractive:
This half-century of economic research simply underlines the important role that non-commercial, non-market goods and services can play both in contributing to the economic well-being of individuals and households as well as the economic vitality of communities. Some of these non-market economic values are human created, others are gifts of nature. All of them are often encompassed in the larger concept of “quality of life” or “local amenities.”
The social environment is the source of some of the most important of these non-market economic values including:
• A legal system that establishes the context for productive private economic activity
• Education through graduate school
• Public transportation networks including our road and highway systems
• Waste treatment including air and water quality protection
• Public health and safety protection
• Land use regulation to protect neighborhood liveability and reduce congestion
Personally, I think Tucson and Pima County have utterly failed in creating “non-market economic value” outside of scenery protection. Pima County taxpayers have spent millions of dollars buying land around the urban area. But we are still very stingy when it comes to creating better education, improving our public transportation and road systems, and the other elements of value.
The leadership of the community is mono-focused on stopping new development — whether it is Painted Hills or the Rosemont Mine — and ignoring the other quality of life issues that are essential to attracting new high-paying jobs to the region.
The Power study reveals an interesting scenario for Tucson and Pima County: our public policy ought to be focused on scenery protection even if it means area residents earn less money than in places like Phoenix.
In using this approach to oppose the Rosemont Mine, people are being asked to give up higher wages to protect views.
Now the really interesting issue is who will see the mine?
The public impression has been created that the mine will impact views from Tucson and Green Valley.
In fact, the Power’s report has a graphic showing exactly where one will be able to see the Rosemont Mine. It’s an honest depiction coming from the anti-mine faction showing a large area south and east, and northeast of the mine site where virtually no one lives and where there is virtually no road access.
So even if you agree with the concept that scenery is more important than good wages, unless you drive down State Route 83 from Interstate 10 to Sonoita, you will never see the mine.
See the report: You can see the Thomas Power’s study online at www.hiltonroad.com/documents/power%20study/Tom_Power_Report_Combined.pdf
Contact Hugh Holub, an attorney who works in real estate development, public utility, water and environmental law, at HughHolub@msn.com.