MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2007-02-10

US update

10th February 2007

The Bush regime's attitude to scientific evidence on climate change is "Orwellian", says former presidential candidate,John Kerry, as a top scientist exposes further the "near criminal" degree to which the administration has doctored the evidence.

One of the country's biggest carbon culprits, Duke Energy (while ostensibly urging the government to "address" climate change), reckons no major restrictions will be placed on emissions in the next three years and that its own businesses won't suffer from higher costs for at least another four.

The state of New Jersey is suing the USEPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for failing to prevent a polluting coal-fired power plant being constructed in neighbouring Pennsylvania.

You'd have to go far to find a mining and metals refining company which has caused more damage to its home country than Asarco. In 1999 Grupo Mexico bought out Asarco, promptly incorporating its Peruvian mines, then letting Asarco slip into bankruptcy. Now, it's rumoured that Glencore - by far the world's most profit-taking metals trader - is poised to bid for Asarco and do what this secretive Swiss giant does best (worst): effect another bout of asset-stripping.

Meanwhile, Asarco's victims - who run into many thousands, both in the US and Peru, are claiming compensation (along with fifteen US states) - not least from asbestos poisoning. The bill currently runs at over six billion dollars - five times what Grupo Mexico paid to acquire the company.

Officials in the Texas country of Kleberg are angered that a major mining company, employing "in-situ leaching" of uranium, hasn't yet cleaned up its old sites.

We are sad to report the death last weekend of Roscoe Churchill. The tribute (below) to him and his work, made by professor Al Gedicks, goes beyond the mere measure of the man and recognises the extraordinary tenacity and degree of cooperation he and his late wife, Evelyn, helped develop between diverse Wisconsin groups - tribes, farmers, environmentalists, lawyers, tourism and conservation interests - that led to the passing of a vital piece of legislation on mining (which has never been replicated elsewhere).

Although Rio Tinto/Kennecott was not stopped from opening the Flambeau mine in Wisconsin, neither it, nor any other mining company, has set foot in the state since.

Effects of Bush Climate Science Censorship Linger

By J.R. Pegg


7th February 2007

The Bush administration's political interference with climate scientists has done lasting damage to the nation's ability to prepare for the challenges of global warming, a former senior associate with the federal climate research program told a Senate panel today.

"Even if we succeed in lifting this heavy hand of censorship there is still the problem of getting the political leadership to embrace the findings put forward by the scientists," said Rick Piltz, who resigned his position with the Climate Change Science Program, CCSP, in 2005 in protest of White House interference with climate science.

Piltz appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee, which held the hearing to examine new allegations the Bush administration has censored federal climate scientists.

For 10 years until June 2005, Rick Piltz worked for the federal program that coordinates global climate change research for federal agencies, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

A report released last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, and the Government Accountability Project, GAP, found that nearly half the 279 climate scientists who responded to a survey reported being pressured to delete references to "global warming" or "climate change" from scientific papers or reports and many said they were prevented from talking to the media or had their work edited.

The UCS/GAP report added to other allegations the Bush administration has repeatedly interfered with federal scientists who have tried to publish research or speak to the media about the reality and impacts of global warming and have edited climate change documents to downplay scientific consensus on the issue.

Committee Chair Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, said investigating the allegations is critical for lawmakers wrestling with climate change.

"To deny federal scientists the right to speak, to change the findings of their work, or to deny the release of their work, basically creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, is a great disservice to the public," Inouye said.

The acting head of the CCSP said the allegations were isolated incidents, adding that the Bush administration "takes the concerns of its scientists very seriously."

"To the best of my knowledge no one has suggested the science or the research findings have been interfered with," said Bill Brennan, deputy assistant administrator for international affairs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and acting CCSP director.

The concerns that have been reported, he said, center on the "intersection of science policy and science and how that is communicated to the public."

The administration is taking steps to remedy the situation, Brennan added.

"Each department and agency is reviewing, and if necessary modifying, its policies to ensure government scientists do not face censorship on any scientific matter, including climate change issues," he said.

The Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA, is readying a new policy that encourages, but does not require, scientists to go through the public affairs office prior to speaking with the media, according to Dr. James Mahoney, the former director of the CCSP.

"This revised policy should resolve most or all of the recent complaints by some NOAA scientists," Mahoney told the panel. Tom Knutson, a climate scientist with NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, said he and his colleagues are "anxious to see how NOAA will interpret and implement the new policy." Knutson, who has published studies linking global warming to increased hurricane strength, told the committee he has faced "unreasonable levels of interference with my communication with the media."

Neither Mahoney nor Brennan touched on what Piltz called the administration's "central climate science scandal," namely its treatment of a national assessment on climate change impacts.

Completed in 2000, the national assessment was mandated by the 1990 Global Change Research Act. It was intended to be continually updated and to serve as a centerpiece of the government's effort to inform the policymakers and the public in developing a national climate policy.

The administration effectively killed the program and suppressed discussion of it by participating agencies, according to Piltz, who now directs GAP's Climate Science Watch.

That action "has done, and continues to do, the greatest damage in undermining national preparedness in dealing with the challenge of global climate change," Piltz told the committee.

"It is clear that the reasons for this were essentially political, and not based on scientific considerations," Piltz added. "The White House through the Council on Environmental Quality directed this suppression, which was then implemented by the CCSP leadership."

The witnesses at the hearing were also asked about edits made to a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report by Phillip Cooley, a petroleum lobbyist who at the time was the chief of staff for the Council on Environmental Quality.

Cooley edited the draft document to eliminate a reference that human activities were causing global temperatures to rise and weakened language on the consequences of climate change - the edits prompted EPA officials to delete the entire climate change section from report.

"They were attempts to create a more moderate picture," Mahoney responded. "No doubt some people did interpret their jobs as to reducing the fear factor."

Piltz said Cooley "clearly had a political agenda" and his actions reflected a "tremendous amount of White House pressure" to suppress scientific concern about global warming.

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, told colleagues the Bush administration's actions were "almost criminal."

"They take the science and tailor it to reflect their political goals," he said. "The interference is stunning … it is George Orwell at its best. It has to stop."

Piltz also urged the committee to examine the state of federal spending on climate science.

"The administration has cut the climate change research budget to its lowest level since 1992 and is presiding over what appears to be a growing crisis in the global climate observing system, thus undermining a critical national intelligence gathering process," Piltz said.

Unless funding is reinstated for the observation system, the number of U.S. satellites monitoring the Earth's climate could drop from 29 today to seven by 2017, warned Richard Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of North American member universities based in Boulder, Colorado.

Anthes told the committee, "We have reached the golden age of Earth observation from space if this trend is not reversed."

Duke Energy Sees no Carbon Limits Till 2009, 2010

PlanetArk US

7th February 2007

NEW YORK - US power company Duke Energy Corp. Chief Executive James Rogers said Tuesday he does not expect the United States to implement carbon emission limits until 2009/2010

Chief Executive James Rogers told Reuters he is working to achieve "minimal price impact on our customers to move into a carbon-constrained world."

US lawmakers have proposed several plans to curtail the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed by most scientists for contributing to global warming, though opposition from the administration of President Bush could prevent any output caps from becoming law.

Last month, Duke joined 10 other major US corporations and environmental organizations to push the president and Congress to address climate change.

The group, known as the United States Climate Action Partnership, is calling for a nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 percent to 30 percent over the next 15 years.

Duke, the third-largest consumer of coal, said it would work to avoid the adverse impact of its disproportionate reliance on coal.

"Our part of the country is very reliant on coal," Rogers added. Duke supports a "transition period, such as was used when limits on emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitroxide oxide were implemented.

Under such a five-year transition period, the company would not see a cost impact on emission limits until 2014 or 2015, according to Rogers.


New Jersey Sues U.S. EPA Over Pennsylvania Power Plant Pollution

TRENTON, New Jersey, (ENS)

9th February 2007

New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner today filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for failing to act on a petition from New Jersey objecting to a proposed operating permit for a coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania.

"This facility is directly across the river from New Jersey and has emitted more than 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually. As a result, it contributes to New Jersey’s inability to attain its clean air goals for sulfur dioxide," said Governor Jon Corzine said. "We will take every action we can to force EPA to do its job and to protect the citizens of this state."

Filed with the U.S. District Court in Trenton, the lawsuit also names as a defendant EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. The lawsuit charges that EPA has violated the federal Clean Air Act by failing to grant or deny a petition filed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in July 2006. The petition objected to Pennsylvania’s proposed issuance of a revised operating permit for a coal-fired plant known as the Portland Generating Station.

The Portland facility is owned by Reliant Energy Mid-Atlantic Power Holdings, and is located directly across the Delaware River from Warren County, New Jersey.

The Portland plant is located upwind of New Jersey’s Highlands, and prevailing winds carry its air pollution directly into the state.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must grant or deny the New Jersey petition within 60 days of its filing. The DEP petition was filed on July 21, 2006, but EPA has yet to respond to it. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson called the EPA’s failure to act on the New Jersey petition "unconscionable."

"The EPA continues to show little concern for the environmental and public health issues we have raised regarding the Portland Generating Station," said Jackson. "With today’s filing, we are putting the EPA on notice that we will not tolerate being ignored."

DEP’s petition to the EPA objected to Pennsylvania’s proposed approval of a revised permit for the Portland Generating Station because:

The Portland plant made modifications allowing it to increase its emissions of air pollutants without installing the pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act. As a result, New Jersey claims, a compliance schedule with an enforceable sequence of compliance milestones that will eventually lead to the elimination of all violations is needed in the permit.

The permit lacks operational limits called heat input limits, and would allow the Portland plant to exceed air quality standards set by the Clean Air Act.

Heat input is a measure of the amount of coal burned each hour and limits on heat input are necessary to avoid excessive hourly emissions for many air contaminants, for example particulate matter - which can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke - and nitrogen oxides, one of the main ingredients in the formation of ground-level ozone.

Embattled mining company Asarco enters into settlement talks

Knight Ridder Washington Bureau (KRT)

7th February 2007

WASHINGTON _ One-time mining giant Asarco has talked with federal regulators and a dozen or so states about the possibility of settling the more than $6 billion in environmental claims it faces in a federal bankruptcy court in Texas.

But with the discussions still in a preliminary stage and pressure increasing for the company to file a reorganization plan, Asarco _ once a major producer of copper and other metals headquartered in Tucson _ asked the court last week to sort out how much it may actually owe to clean up the toxic legacy of its mining, smelting and other operations at nearly 100 sites nationwide.

The court is already set to review more than 95,000 asbestos-related claims that could be worth between $500 million and a $1 billion. Asarco has turned over more than 2 million documents to the lawyers representing the asbestos claimants and a court proceeding, known as an estimation hearing, is scheduled to this fall.

While bankruptcy proceedings are often dry and dull featuring lengthy court briefs written in obscure legalese, Asarco's case has enormous implications for both federal and state taxpayers, who could be left with the multibillion-dollar bill.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is seeking more than $1.3 billion to clean up a number of Superfund sites.

Fifteen states have also filed claims, led by Oklahoma's $2 billion claim and Washington state's $600 million claim, according to lawyers involved in the case. Other states with major claims include Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. No state-by-state breakdown is available.

Various Indian tribes and private parties have also filed environmental claims against Asarco.

The possible settlement talks, which began last fall, have taken on a new urgency amid reports that a major Swiss multinational corporation, in partnership with a Montana firm, wants to buy most of Asarco's remaining assets. Other international mining companies are also reportedly interested in Asarco.

The talks come as Asarco's current Mexican owner, Grupo Mexico S.A. de C.V., recently has sought to reassert control over its subsidiary, asking the bankruptcy judge to expand its current three-member board by two members to be chosen by Grupo.

Earlier court filings alleged Grupo Mexico stripped Asarco of its most valuable assets _ two Peruvian copper mines _ and then let the company slip into bankruptcy to avoid environmental cleanup costs and asbestos-related claims. Grupo Mexico has denied the allegations.

"Everyone is sort of circling right now," said John Tate, a Dallas lawyer representing some of the asbestos claimants.

Asarco is facing an early April deadline to submit its reorganization plan to the court. The company repeatedly has insisted it wants to reorganize and emerge from bankruptcy intact.

In a brief filed last week, Asarco, however, warned that its reorganization plan will be "unduly delayed and at risk of failure" if the bankruptcy court doesn't sort out the environmental claims.

If a settlement can't be reached, Asarco said, the court has no choice but to come up with an estimate of the environmental claims before it could move forward with reorganization.

"There are a lot of balls in the air," said Elliott Furst, a senior counsel in the Washington state attorney general's ecology division.

Asarco's lead lawyer in the bankruptcy, Jack Kinzie of Dallas, acknowledged talks had taken place, but he added few details.

"In a bankruptcy, you are always talking," Kinzie said. "You litigate if necessary, but you also talk about settlement."

Originally the federal government, the states, local governments, Indian tribes and private parties had filed nearly $11 billion in environmental damage claims. But that was whittled down to $6 billion after "obvious and not so obvious" duplicate claims were eliminated, according to court documents.

Furst also indicated the states had talked with Glencore AG of Switzerland and the Montana-based Washington Corp., which have formed a joint venture and expressed an interest in purchasing most of Asarco's assets.

"They said they were interested," said Furst. "If they are serious they are going to have to come up with an offer if they want our support."

Furst said Glencore and Washington Corp. indicated they too were considering the possibility of establishing an environmental trust fund, but no dollar amounts were discussed.

Asarco, a century-old mining and smelting company, was once listed on the Fortune 500 but had fallen on hard times by the late 1990s as the price of copper plummeted. Grupo Mexico's takeover of Asarco in 1999 set off alarm bells at the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Justice Department initially sought to block Grupo Mexico from transferring Asarco's interest in the Peruvian mines to another of its subsidiaries. But after Grupo Mexico agreed to pay an additional $125 million for the mines and establish a $100 million environmental trust fund, the deal was allowed to proceed.

Thirty-two months later, in September 2005, Asarco filed for bankruptcy protection.

Grupo Mexico, through a web of subsidiaries, continues to own 100 percent of Asarco. But because it is in bankruptcy, Asarco is beholden to its debtors, not its stockholders. And Asarco is considering suing Grupo Mexico for the "fraudulent conveyance" of its Peruvian mines to its parent company. The money it could potentially recover would be used to pay off creditors and a portion of the environmental and asbestos-related claims.

Here is a look at some of those who have filed environmental claims:

The states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington.

The federal government: The Department of Justice has filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department.

Local governments: The Tacoma Metropolitan Park District, the Port of Everett, the Everett Housing Authority, the cities of Omaha, Los Angeles and Denver, and the Utah Transit Authority.

Tribes: The Coeur D'Alene Tribe in Idaho and the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.

Private entities: The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Atlantic Richfield Co., BNSF Railroad Corp., Murray Pacific Corp., Union Pacific Railroad Co., Phelps Dodge Corp. and Louisiana Pacific Corp.

Kleberg County to face off with uranium mining company - again

7th February 2007

KLEBERG COUNTY - A battle is brewing between Kleberg County leaders and a local uranium mining company that wants to expand to new areas. County officials claim the company still needs to clean up the older sites first.

The company mines uranium by pumping water into the ground, running it through uranium- filled rock, pumping it back to the surface, and finally extracting the uranium. The community out there is concerned about what's left in the ground water after the company is done mining.

Uranium Resources Inc. has been in Kleberg County (Texas) for about 20 years, producing the yellow cake uranium ore, and recently expanded to their third area of mining, called production area number 3.

A 2004 agreement says URI can't move on to PA 3, until they've fully cleaned up PA 1. The company said they've done that, but county leaders disagree, and Tuesday the commissioners' court voted to higher an attorney for the case, claiming the company's actions have forced them into this position.

"They said we're going to mine anyway. Here's our attorney, " County Judge Pete De La Garza said. "(The county) can't be without an attorney, and that's what we're probably going to do, hire an attorney."

URI officials were on hand at the commissioner's court workshop, along with many of the plant's employees.

Roscoe Churchill

Obituary/Press Release

By Al Gedicks, Wisconsin

10th February 2007

Roscoe Churchill, a dearly loved leader of Wisconsin’s environmental movement passed away on February 9, 2007 in his sleep after a long struggle with prostate cancer.

Roscoe Churchill of Ladysmith, was the grandfather of Wisconsin's grassroots anti-mining movement. For more than 30 years, this retired school principal, part-time farmer, former Republican, and Rusk County supervisor, along with his late wife Evelyn, were the heart and soul of the efforts to stop some of the largest mining companies in the world, including Kennecott, Noranda, Exxon, Rio Algom and BHP Billiton from destroying the land and clean waters of communities from Ladysmith to the Mole Lake Chippewa Reservation near Crandon, and from La Crosse County to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In the early 1970s the Kennecott Copper Company tried to develop a copper mine in Ladysmith and Roscoe became concerned that the mine could endanger local groundwater and disrupt the dairy farming economy of Rusk County. During their retirement years, he and Evelyn traveled across the U.S. and Canada, visiting active and abandoned mines and educating themselves about every aspect of mining.

Evelyn specialized in Wisconsin's mining laws and regulations while Roscoe did most of the public speaking and debates with mining company officials and representatives of the Wisconsin DNR. He and Evelyn were among the founders of the Rusk County Citizens Action Group, formed in the mid 1970s to oppose Kennecott's proposed open pit copper mine on the banks of the Flambeau River.

Local opposition stopped the mine in 1976 but the company tried again in 988 and after running roughshod over township opposition and covering up the presence of endangered species in the Flambeau River, received permits to mine in 1991. The long and sordid history of Kennecott's interference with local democracy and the courageous resistance by grassroots citizens is recounted in the forthcoming book by Roscoe Churchill and his friend Laura Furtman, called The Buzzards Have Landed: The Real Story of the Flambeau Mine.

Their discussions around the kitchen table with friends and neighbors led to the drafting and successful passage of the 1998 Wisconsin Mining Moratorium Law, known as the Churchill Moratorium Law within the environmental community, in honor of Roscoe and Evelyn's key role in drafting the original legislation.

This law set a strict performance standard for mining permits which required mining companies to demonstrate successful mining and post-mining without polluting surrounding surface and groundwaters. No mining company has been able to meet this standard and Wisconsin soon earned a reputation within the international mining industry as the least attractive place to mine.

Roscoe's untiring opposition to ecologically destructive mining had nothing to do with "Not in my backyard" sentiment. He traveled across the state to assist the Indian, environmental and sportfishing alliance that formed to oppose Exxon's proposed Crandon mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River. He was an effective public speaker and organizer with the Wolf Watershed Educational Project, one of the principal groups that stopped Exxon, Rio Algom and BHP Billiton from constructing the ill-conceived Crandon mine.

Roscoe spoke before town and county boards all over western Wisconsin in 1997-98 when Kennecott wanted to explore for copper in La Crosse, Jackson, Trempealeau, Clark, and Eau Claire counties. All five counties voted to ban mining on public lands.Roscoe and Evelyn's dedication to preserving sustainable economies in Wisconsin received special recognition by several Wisconsin tribes, including the Menominee, the Mole Lake Chippewa, the Forest County Potawatomi, the Lac Courte Oreilles Chippewa and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Roscoe's knowledge, experience, eloquence and fearlessness in the face of irresponsible corporate and bureaucratic power won the admiration and respect of an entire generation of environmental activists.

The Churchill farm became a mecca for young people interested in learning from the elders of the Wisconsin anti-mining movement. Even when the ravages of prostate cancer was slowing him down, he continued to give his time, energy and expertise to newly formed citizen groups opposed to Kennecott's proposed metallic sulfide mine in the Yellow Dog Plains of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

"We can't quit fighting, and we're not going to!" As long as there was breath in his lungs he used his voice to speak uncomfortable truths to power and to inspire hope and confidence in the grassroots.

Roscoe and Evelyn's legacy is one of the strongest grassroots environmental movements in the history of Wisconsin.


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