Background on CYANIDE in MINING - U.S.
Credit: Richard Mock
Cyanide at Crandon Mine
NAFTA Panel to Hear U.S.-Canada Gold Mine Disputehttp://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2007/2007-08-10-09.asp
WASHINGTON, DC, August 10, 2007 (ENS) - Next week, an international arbitration panel will hear a dispute between Canada and the United States over an open-pit, cyanide heap leach gold mine proposed but not developed in the California desert.
The arbitration is an attempt to settle a claim by a Canadian gold mining corporation that the U.S. refusal to approve its mine proposal violates the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.
In the early 1990s, Glamis Gold, Ltd. proposed the mine that opponents say would have destroyed a pristine desert wilderness area, consumed 389 million gallons of desert groundwater annually, and impacted sites sacred to the Quechan Indian Nation.
Glamis merged with another Canadian company, Goldcorp, last November, creating one of the world's largest gold mining companies with operations in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and Australia.
In 2001 in the last days of the Clinton administration, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt refused to approve Glamis's mining mining plan because of the threat it posed to the sacred tribal lands.
California later passed a law requiring open pit mines to be refilled after mining was completed, a process the company argues is too expensive to make the mine profitable.
The Bush administration reversed the Babbitt decision, but still has not issued the necessary permits. The California reclamation law is still on the books.
Glamis claims the California law and the Babbitt denial violate NAFTA, which provides special protection for the profits of foreign companies.
In July 2003, Glamis Gold filed a US$50 million claim against the United States for profits it claims to have lost as a result of the actions taken by California and the federal government to protect the environment and indigenous communities.
Although the law and regulations apply broadly to all open-pit mines and investors throughout the state, Glamis argues that federal and state actions violate two central rules in NAFTA Chapter 11: the prohibition on expropriation, and the requirement to provide "fair and equitable" treatment to foreign investors.
In 2006, environmental groups filed an amicus petition in defense of the right of the US and state governments to protect important interests, including the desert resources and Quechan sacred sites at stake in this case.
The nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice says Glamis' claim "highlights the power the United States is giving foreign corporations - through trade agreements like the Peru and Panama free trade agreements Congress is presently considering - to avoid and undermine protections for the environment, indigenous rights and other public concerns."
Authorities Hunt Keg of Potent Chemical that Fell
Big news minutes ago from Summit County Colorado. Jeff Parsons just came out of the County Commissioners hearing where the County has just enacted regulations banning cyanide and other toxic chemicals used in mineral processing (I think only for gold/silver, but I'm not sure).
Jeff said the industry pulled out all the stops. A number of Colorado's biggest and most powerful law firms, the State mining agency, AngloGold (represented by Tom Strickland, former US Attorney for Colorado and recent Democratic US Senate candidate), Climax/Phelps Dodge, etc., all argued against Jeff and a coalition of local enviros, sportsmen and women, and citizens.
The Harder They Come
A true victory for the people!
Summitville disaster brings change
Conejos County Citizen (Colorado)
CAPULIN - Since the Sum-mitville mine was declared a Superfund site in 1992, residents downstream along the Alamosa River have had many victories.
Through community efforts, the Alamosa River basin community has enabled two foundations with a total of $6.5 million in funds that are being used to restore the river basin with input from the people the damaged river affects most.
Residents are also empowering themselves by being part of the technical advisory groups that the state and federal government have set up to dialogue with the community about Superfund clean up efforts, water purifying, and the reintroduction of aquatic life to the river.
Another group is taking on the task to stop future Summitvilles, by trying to ban open leach pit mines statewide.
Dr. Colin Henderson, a physician who lives near the Alamosa River, is the president of a grass roots coalition of concerned Colorado citizens called the Alliance for Responsible Mining, which formed after Montanans passed a bill which prohibited any new open-pit cyanide gold mines in 1998.
"Our goal is to pass similar legislation in Colorado," said Henderson. "We want to see that another open pit cyanide mining disaster never happens again. Open pit cyanide mining is a failed technology. We've been working the last four or five years on legislation to ban open pit cyanide mining statewide."
Senator Ken Gordon recently introduced Colorado Senate Bill SB 26, which aimed to stop new open-pit cyanide heap leach gold mines from being permitted in Colorado.
"The bill died in committee," said Henderson. "But it was the first year we had it introduced. It's a long-term project and we're against the powerful gold mining industry lobbying power in Denver. We're working with counties and we've had 11 counties come out in support of the ban and we're supported by the Conejos County and Costilla County Commissioners."
Costilla and Gunnison counties have passed ordinances prohibiting the mining practice.
"A statewide ban is important, because what if the county up stream doesn't care," said Henderson.
"Every county that's lived through the creation, operation, and shutdown of one of these mines is now against the practice.Rio Grande County had all the advantage of employment when Summitville operated for six years, but Conejos County was downstream and we got all the disadvantage.It's very clear that even folks that benefited economically wouldn't want to do it again. Most counties are saying they don't want this stuff," he said.
The group is trying to expose similar mining practices in other parts of the state. Spills, leaks and other problems poisoned San Luis drinking water, forcing closure of Battle Mountain Gold's San Luis Mine. The state's only remaining cyanide-gold operation is the huge Cripple Creek & Victor, which has been cited for serious federal Clean Water Act violations.
"If Summitville was the only problem, then we wouldn't be doing this," said Henderson. "Battle Mountain Gold had a mine above San Luis that is very problematic. There's a big mine in Victor, that's four times the size of Summitville that already had over 20 violations of the EPA's Clean Water Act last fall. If mines are on federal land, they can get leases from BLM or the U.S. Forest Service for no money. We have a letter from San Luis Chamber of Commerce, saying they're not in favor of these types of mines anymore. In Montana, they understand that the water is so valuable. We're farmers and need it and draught has made us even more aware. Water is one of Colorado's most valuable long-term resources."
Much of the community has used tragedy and bad decision to start a new era in the Alamosa river basin. "One of the goals in my mind is community empowerment," said Alan Miller, who heads the Alamosa River Restoration Project and has been involved with river restoration issues since Summtiville.
"You put them in the equation along with the government and the environment. The whole river has gotten a lot of coverage. It's important to the whole state and to the whole county. We're coming from the bottom. It's so important for us to succeed. The river has been abused. But the local people, farmers, and ranchers want to see the river as it once was."
Mining company appeals ruling on cyanide ban
HELENA (AP) - A Colorado mining company on Tuesday asked the Montana Supreme Court to throw out a district judge's ruling that upheld the state's ban on the use of cyanide in gold mining.
Canyon Resources Corp. contends the ban, which voters enacted in 1998, illegally crippled its plans for an open-pit mine near Lincoln.
The company's appeal challenges a decision by District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena last month. Sherlock concluded the ban, enacted by Initiative 137, did not violate Canyon Resources' constitutional rights.
In dismissing the company's lawsuit, Sherlock also rejected the claim that Canyon Resources should be compensated for loss of its project. Although the suit did not specify an amount, company officials have said it could be $500 million.
"The citizens of Montana and Canyon Resources have been deprived of substantial economic opportunities over many future decades with the enactment of I-137," the company said in a statement Tuesday.
Richard DeVoto, company president, said he is not about to allow the matter to drop with so much at stake.
"Canyon Resources and the Seven-Up Pete Venture will do everything possible to realize the immense value of the world-class gold district at McDonald/Seven-Up Pete for Montanans and our shareholders," he said.
DeVoto left open the option of reviving a similar lawsuit in federal court that has been on hold while the state case proceeded.
State Solicitor Brian Morris, who defended I-137, said he was not surprised by the appeal.
"It's appropriate for the Montana Supreme Court to decide an issue of this importance," he said.
The District Court decision concluded that passage of the cyanide ban neither altered any contract between the state and Canyon Resources nor took away the company's property.
The state never signed any document promising developers they would be allowed to open the mine and use cyanide in its operation, Sherlock said. What's more, developers of the Seven-up Pete Joint Venture had no property right in the project, but merely held leases giving them the right to apply for a mining permit, he said.
In its statement Tuesday, the company said I-137 has eliminated all new metal mining in the state, and estimated it has deprived Montana of $150 million a year in investments that would otherwise occur because of mineral exploration and development.
"Canyon Resources feels strongly that fairness and justice has not been achieved by the District Court ruling," the company said.
Cyanide use in mining targeted
Opponents of ban cite likely job loss
Friday, January 10, 2003 - Farmers, business interests, local governments and environmentalists want to ban cyanide in gold-mining operations in Colorado because they believe it poisons streams, wildlife and people.
But others stand behind the practice for the sake of future gold-mining jobs, they say.
Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, introduced a bill this week to ban open-pit cyanide mining in Colorado.
Heap leaching, as it's called, douses ore with cyanide to flush out the last remaining bits of gold from the rocks.
As gold prices continue to outpace the stock market, mining companies could turn to the practice to get the last traces of the mineral from hundreds of long- closed mines across the state, predict opponents of the practice.
"The big nuggets and veins are gone," said Carmi McLean, head of the Denver-based Clean Water Action and a board member of the watchdog group Alliance for Responsible Mining. "What's left is flakes and flecks that are now worth going back after."
McLean said cyanide-mining opponents don't want to shut down the industry but force it into more environmentally sound practices.
The Cripple Creek and Victor Mine in Teller County southwest of Colorado Springs is the only mine in the state using cyanide. The mine will be exempted from the ban, McLean said.
"We're not trying to take anybody's job," she explained.
The mine, in operation since the 1890s, is the largest employer in Teller County, with 300 people on staff and 500 more workers employed by contractors.
The mine's operators don't put much faith in the waiver, however.
The mine has permits that routinely come up for renewal that could be challenged because of the ban, if it became law, said Amy Knous, a spokeswoman for Anglogold North America.
"This is a very extreme environmental agenda, and it's not based on science," she said.
There is no evidence to show cyanide from the mine is reaching the watershed, and tough laws already on the books would punish the company severely if it did, she said.
"Everybody understands that what we do is environmentally responsible," she said, referring to the proposed exemption, "so why jeopardize the future of a good industry for this state?"
Cyanide mining bill introduced
Alamosa Valley Courier (in Colorado's San Luis Valley)
Jan 9 2003, By SYLVIA LOBATO
ALAMOSA - With the words of a Sanford cattleman echoing through the air, a local citizens' coalition is promoting legislation to ban new open-pit cyanide gold and silver mines in Colorado.
Clarence Martin set the tone with his comments, "I'm not an environmentalist, but we can't be polluting our rivers. You can't eat or drink gold, and you can't live without clean water."
Senator Ken Gordon, D-Denver, on Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 26, that would prohibit new mines using the process in Colorado.
"We're excited that it (the bill) is finally introduced," said Dr. Colin Henderson M.D., president of the San Luis Valley-based Alliance for Responsible Mining.
At present, the Cripple Creek and Victor (CCV) mine is the only operating open-pit cyanide gold mine in Colorado. Summitville and Battle Mountain Gold Mine, both in the San Luis valley, have been closed, but still arouse concerns, as cited by proponents of the bill.
"We're not against mining," explains Charlie Jaquez, a fifth generation San Luis resident whose family lives below the Battle Mountain site, "but this kind of mining is failed technology and must be stopped. True reclamation is impossible. The state legislature must act now to protect our water, our health, our children and our pocketbooks. Prevention is the only answer."
Proponents of the bill explain that it is so important that a national environmental group will be knocking on doors in Alamosa Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10-11, urging residents to write their state legislators to support the bill.
Carmi McLean, Colorado director of Clean Water Action, said, "Despite the mining industry's promises, the industry has not practiced cyanide-leach mining safely. Cyanide spills have poisoned rivers, contaminated drinking water supplies, killed fish and aquatic wildlife and poisoned people."
Cyanide is a highly toxic compound used to separate gold and silver from ore. In Colorado, the chemical is used in open-pit, heap-leach gold mining. In this process, huge pits are dug and lined with rubber blankets, then extracted ore is dumped in heaps. A cyanide solution is sprayed on the heap, then the cyanide trickles through and bonds with the gold and silver flakes, which are then channeled into a holding pond to be extracted. The cyanide solution is then sprayed over the ore heap again and the process is repeated.
Leakage of the leach pad led to what has been called "the worst mining environmental disaster in this country" at Summitville between 1986 and 1993. The Summitville spills poisoned the Terrace Reservoir, as well as 17 miles of the Alamosa River, while putting economically important crops at risk.
While some money has been recovered through litigation from officials of mining companies that operated at Summitville, most of the burden of the $180 million cleanup effort has been borne by the taxpayers. Galactic Mining Company, of Canada, closed the mine, left the country and filed for bankruptcy.
After the Summitville disaster, Colorado enacted a bill, SB 93-247 in an attempt to better regulate this type of mining, but Jaquez points out that pollution problems continue to plague all the mines, including those permitted after 1993.
When it was built, management of the Battle Mountain Gold Mine promised a safe, "zero discharge, state of the art" facility, but cyanide levels in the tailing ponds exceeded permit levels by 5,000 percent within a year. The company was fined $86,700 for violations of its permit.
Jaquez notes that perpetual water treatment may be necessary to control pollution still leaking from the site. A plume of contaminated groundwater is thought to be slowly moving toward San Luis' wells.
The CC&V mine near Cripple Creek would be exempt from the legislation as long as they change their reclamation plan to disallow deliberate puncturing of the leach pad liners. In th past, CC&V has violated state water quality standards and has been cited by the EPA for violation of the Clean Water Act. This past fall, CC&V paid a $125,000 fine for more than 20 violations of the Clean Water Act, and the EPA reportedly named the company the largest emitter of toxic releases in Colorado.
McLean said the 1993 legislation does not address water quality problems associated with open-pit cyanide mines and did nothing to prevent the serious problems at Battle Mountain and CC&V. CC&V's closure plan currently allows puncturing of the protective liners.
Martin expressed grave concern over that plan. "Even if they rinse the cyanide heap, we can't allow CC&V to puncture the liner. After the EPA washed out the Summitville heap for three years, it still held 93 million gallons of toxic soup and two tons of cyanide." He warned that puncturing the liner would allow pollution to drain into the groundwater.
Henderson said the coalition supporting a ban on new cyanide gold mines is diverse and bi-partisan. It has been endorsed by the Pueblo Stockmen's association, Valley-Wide Health services and the Rocky Mountain Farmer's union, as well as the county commissioners of Ouray, Park, Chaffee, Conejos, Costilla, Pitkin, Rio Grande and San Miguel counties. Support has also come from the San Luis chamber of Commerce, the Baca Grande Fire department, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Clean Water Action, the SLV Hispanic League, the Colorado Audubon Society, the Rocky Mountain Sierra Club, the High Country Citizen's Alliance and the towns of Lake City, La Jara, Crested Butte and Fairplay.