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Archive for January, 2011

Dale Kasler, writing in today’s Washington Post, quotes Grass Valley’s recent mayor Lisa Swarthout on the sensible objection to opening an old gold mine in the center of town:

In Grass Valley, for instance, a thriving high-tech industry has sprouted in a community where the high school sports teams are called the Miners. Emotions are mixed on the proposal by Emgold Mining of Vancouver, British Columbia, to reopen the old Idaho-Maryland Mine, which hasn’t operated since 1956.

“The landscape of the community has changed,” said Mayor Lisa Swarthout. “When it was an operating mine . . . it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The community has grown around it.”

“The community has grown around it.”

There, in a nutshell, is the most fundamental damning fact that should doom the idea of re-opening the old Idaho-Maryland mine in the heart of Grass Valley.

Kasler, despite later quoting a local research group, CLAIM-GV (Citizens Looking at the Impact of Mining in Grass Valley), here trivializes the community’s strong objection to the mine, by framing it in terms of the quirky preference for “boutiques” and B&Bs

Old mining towns still embrace their Gold Rush roots but have become havens for tourists and retirees. Some residents aren’t convinced that blasting through rock is compatible with boutiques and bed-and-breakfast spots.

The Washington Post article quotes Emgold CEO David Watkinson, who is still repeating his largely discredited promise of 400 jobs and repeating his ludicrous claim that junior mining companies are generally having trouble raising money in these recessionary times.

In fact, other juniors with proven reserves are having no such problems raising funds, especially in this time of exceptionally high gold prices.

Emgold, with no proven reserves, is a uniquely weak prospect for success of any kind.

Watkinson, in his trademark spin, also continues to misrepresent a 2006 telephone survey by claiming that “72 percent of Grass Valley residents” support the mine. In fact, the survey of only 338 residents was conducted before all the negative environmental impacts were documented in the environmental impact report. Those 243 favorable responses were conditional on environmental safeguards being in place.

We do not know how many of those 243 respondents live or own property near the mine site. But we do know now that this proposed industrial hardrock mine near the heart of Grass Valley poses a significant threat to air and water quality, and that it will greatly increase traffic congestion and noise.

“We’ve been hit with the recession, just like everybody else,” said Chief Executive David Watkinson. “Even with the high price of gold, you’ll find junior mining companies are struggling to find money.”

Watkinson said mining would create 400 jobs in Grass Valley. He said he’s encouraged that the project won support of 72 percent of Grass Valley residents in a survey conducted four years ago by the city.

But there is opposition. Critics say the project would create environmental hazards and hurt the quirky character of Grass Valley.

“We feel the real gold is the wonderful environment,” said Ralph Silberstein, a software consultant and president of CLAIM, or Citizens Looking at Impacts of Mining.

Read the full Washington Post article: Despite price rise, there’s no 21st-century Gold Rush in Calif.”

See Dale Kasler’s original November 2010 Sacramento Bee article, from which today’s Washington Post article was excerpted.

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Poisoned by the Midas Touch

Published in Earthjustice.org 04 January 2011. Reprinted with permission.

by David Lawlor

Gold mining and its toxic byproducts proliferate in the Americas.

Silver was the precious metal at the foundation of the Roman Empire’s economy and since silver is often embedded in lead ore, lead was an abundant byproduct available throughout the empire. As such, Romans used lead in everything from plumbing pipes to wine to women’s makeup. In a sense, it was the high fructose corn syrup of its day: it was found in a plethora of common items and caused negative health effects. Lead poisoning is well documented in the Roman era and forever linked with that society’s fascination with silver. Surely, centuries later, humanity has learned its lesson.

But, of course, humanity has not learned its lesson and, as an interesting article in the Yale Environment 360 blog illustrates, society’s poor are bearing the brunt of our collective folly.

The article highlights the human health and environmental impacts of gold mining in Colombia and other Latin American countries. With currency markets weakening, precious metal prices have skyrocketed over the past two years as investors leery of buying U.S. dollars have instead thrown fistfuls of money at the gold market. As of today, gold is hovering around $1,400 per ounce; in June 1999 an ounce went for a paltry $250.

As a result of the profit potential, small-time mining operations have sprung up across such Latin American countries as Colombia. While lead is associated with silver extraction, mercury contamination (along with other toxins like cyanide and arsenic) goes hand-in-hand with mining and processing gold. The air in some Colombian mining regions contains mercury at levels 1,000 times above the threshold set by the World Health Organization. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include neuropathic disorders, hypertension, and, in acute cases, death.

Earthjustice’s partner organization in international law, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), has been working to limit mercury contamination from gold-mining operations in Latin America and is seeking to safeguard the health of communities at risk for exposure. Most recently, AIDA successfully persuaded the Mexican government to deny a permit for the Paredones Amarillos gold mine, which would have polluted a mountainous region in southern Baja California.

And in the U.S., recent Earthjustice litigation impelled EPA to issue tougher standards limiting mercury pollution from gold-mining companies with ore-processing facilities.

Maybe the real question here is why gold at all? Throughout human history, various items ranging from tally sticks to seashells to fiat currencies have served as money. So, why should a metal with limited practical application (you can’t knit a sweater or build your house with it) and negative human and environmental impacts be so valued by society? That’s not an easy question to answer, but, sadly, when all is said and done, gold may well go down as the most blatant example of commodity fetishism the world has ever known.

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