MAC: Mines and Communities

USA mining industry uses Corona virus as self-exculpating pretext

Published by MAC on 2020-03-22
Source: Bloomberg news

It's clearly a version of the English schoolchild's legendary excuse for failing to deliver on prescribed tasks: "Sorry sir, the dog ate my homework".

That untruth didn't satisfy the teachers then, and don't do so now.

No more should the contemporary attempts by US mining and other companies to escape from one of today's most vital priorities - acknowledging, then promptly cleaning up, the vast wastes they have bequeathed to the rest of us.

Not only in the USA...

Whether or not the world's second largest miner, Rio Tinto, goes ahead with its 2020 London annual general meeting early next month, is doubtful.

Judged by latest statements from the British government, this would be risky for the health of all who might be tempted to attend, and must therefore fall within the ambit of prohibited public gatherings.

The key demands to be voiced by "dissenting shareholders" related intimately to the company's operations at sites - specifically in Indonesia and Bougainville - that Rio Tinto have quit, offloading the responsibility, both morally and economically, for the utter messes it has left behind.

Nonetheless, even if the dissidents "self isolate"  (as the sloppy lingo has it), they are now promising to release a series of digital protests over the coming fortnight.

[Comment by Nostromo Research]

Critics cry foul at miners for using virus to bend rules

Bloomberg News

20 March 2020

Coal companies want to suspend payments for mine cleanups. The trucking
industry wants to waive rules that limit drivers’ daily hours. And oil
producers want to put off a June 1 deadline to shift to summer-grade

A wide range of industries are pleading with federal agencies to waive
environmental requirements and ease regulatory deadlines, arguing that
the global coronavirus response is making it impossible to satisfy them.

While some requests are reasonable, Tyson Slocum, an official with the
watchdog group Public Citizen, said, others amount to “opportunistic

“I don’t think the coronavirus should be used as an excuse to decimate
compliance with needed consumer or environmental regulatory
protections,” he said.

Trade groups for the affected industries say they are victims of the
outbreak and deserve a break.

“The coal industry is absolutely critical to securing a domestic, secure
supply of affordable energy,” the National Mining Association said in a
letter seeking relief, including a bid to suspend payments for mine
cleanups and sick workers. “The fuel security provided by coal reserves
at power plants offers resiliency to a system that is bracing for

Truckers are petitioning the White House to expand an emergency
declaration that allowed federal highway safety regulators to suspend
some limits on daily driving for drivers hustling to make emergency
delivers and ferry medical supplies across the country. Among the
requests is an exception of hours of service rules for all freight and a
suspension of roadside inspections and weight checks for some loads and
carriers, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wrote in a
letter to President Donald Trump on Friday.

Many challenges

“Unfortunately, our members are encountering many challenges that
unnecessarily slow the movement of goods, limit the effectiveness of
response efforts and jeopardize their personal health and safety,” Todd
Spencer, the group’s president, said. “The federal government can take
steps to immediately alleviate many of these problems.”

In the case of coal, advocates of the fossil fuel are seeking to revive
a stalled proposal for the president to invoke the 70-year-old Defense
Production Act to keep money-losing power plants operating.
Representative David McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia, said
that during the coronavirus pandemic, the government “must take all
necessary steps to support the coal industry and keep coal-fired power
plants online.”

“During an emergency, it is absolutely critical that affordable,
reliable and resilient supplies of electricity are able to support
critical infrastructure that is dependent on electricity — and to
promote a sense of normalcy,” McKinley said in a Thursday letter to
Trump and congressional leaders.

Democratic Representatives Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Matt Cartwright
of Pennsylvania decried the coal push, saying in a letter to
congressional leaders this was no time for the sector to get a
“taxpayer-funded bailout.”

‘Taking advantage’

“The coal industry is taking advantage of the country’s current
circumstances to advocate for policies that are completely unrelated to
the current crisis,” the lawmakers wrote.

Some oil producers are citing the pandemic and a global crude glut as
they ask the president to waive a law mandating only American vessels
can be used to transport goods among U.S. ports.

A temporary waiver of that law, known as the Jones Act, “can allow
American producers to move domestic products with greater ease within
the U.S.,” the American Exploration and Production Council said in a
letter sent to congressional leaders last week.

Some U.S. oil refiners also are asking the Environmental Protection
Agency to waive a June 1 deadline to shift to cleaner-burning
summer-grade gasoline. As nationwide social distancing efforts and some
local shelter-in-place requirements take drivers off the road and
obliterate gasoline demand, refiners are worried they won’t be able to
offload stockpiles of winter-grade gasoline and drain the system in time.

Companies may have “legitimate difficulty complying with environmental
obligations as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic,” said Brian
Israel and Michael Gerrard, environmental lawyers with Arnold & Porter
Kaye Scholer LLP.

“For example, if engineers and operators are unable to work on-site,
some facilities may find it difficult to maintain certain pollution
control equipment,” as well as storm-water management systems, the
attorneys said in a Bloomberg Law essay. Other facilities may struggle
to meet deadlines to install pollution-control equipment.

Companies have been successful in seeking to delay or waive
environmental requirements at both the state and federal level citing
the coronavirus crisis, Israel said in an interview.

“The phone is ringing off the hook,” said Israel, who previously worked
as an environmental enforcement attorney for the Department of Justice.
“It’s not a relaxation of environmental standards. It’s really an
acknowledgment that under the circumstances things are going to have to
be a little flexible.”

(By Ari Natter and Jennifer A. Dlouhy)

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