MAC: Mines and Communities

US Update

Published by MAC on 2006-04-21

US Update

21st April 2006

Water is at the heart of this week's news from the USA, as a proposed gold mine using "potentially" deadly sodium cyanide threatens the Boise River, while the long-standing struggle between Diné and Hopi grass-roots people and Peabody Coal (and some tribal leadership) heats up again. Indigenous peoples from around the world will also be protesting Newmont's annual meeting, with a litany of complaints. And aluminium giant Alcoa is headed for a possible strike if it can't address workers' healthcare demands.

Environmental group says gold mine "threatens" Boise River

KTVB - Thursday

20th April 2006

BOISE -- The Boise River is also making news today for more than flooding, the river made a conservation group's new top 10 list for most endangered rivers.

An environmental group has put the Boise River on its ten most endangered rivers list.

American Rivers says a proposed gold mine in Atlanta, and the process of using potentially deadly cyanide, threatens the Boise River.

The ranking does not mean that we have one of the most polluted or dirty rivers in the country, it just means the waterway is threatened.

A mining company wants to use a cyanide heap leach process to remove gold from the ore, a concept that conservation groups strongly oppose.

"We're very concerned here not only because of the massive amounts of cyanide and diesel fuel and other toxic chemicals that are going to be stockpiled in the headwaters, but we're also concerned about the transportation route there," said John Robison, Idaho Conservation League.

But managers with Atlanta Gold Corp. say their fears are unfounded.

There are two issues at stake.

First the actual transportation of cyanide, and secondly its actual use.

Gold mine officials say they will transport the chemical in sealed ocean shipping containers with pilot cars, and would never travel in winter. And as for the use of cyanide.

"Allowing any pollution to get into the Middle Fork of the Boise River doesn't meet any standards, we know that, the agencies know that, and we're not proposing to build anything that would create pollution in the middle fork," said Bruce Thorndycraft, General Manager, Atlanta Gold Corp.

The Atlanta Gold Mine Corp. still needs to have about 10 permits in place before they can begin mining operations in 2007.

Alcoa strike could hurt both sides, analysts say

By Steve James, NEW YORK (Reuters)

18th April 2006

Just when higher aluminum prices are starting to translate into bigger profits for Alcoa Inc. (AA.N: Quote, Profile, Research), the company faces potentially crippling labor strife.

Analysts are divided over whether next month's negotiations will result in the first major test in the industry since a six-week strike at Alcoa in 1986.

But they say any protracted strike could hurt both sides, with possible plant closures and layoffs as well as supply disruptions -- most notably to the aerospace industry, which uses aluminum for aircraft and rocket manufacture.

Negotiations don't start until May 18 on a new labor contract covering 9,000 workers at 15 U.S. plants, but already the company is making contingency plans by building up inventories and training managers to operate plants.

Last week, Alcoa Chief Executive Officer Alain Belda talked tough while announcing that first-quarter profits more than doubled. "We are never looking for confrontations, but must be, and are, prepared. I will not mortgage the future of the company.

"It's not about unions; it's about Alcoa and we have very clear programs to operate as much as we can to minimize disruption if there is a strike," he told Wall Street analysts.

In response, Jim Robinson, United Steelworkers of America (USW) chief negotiator, said he was not looking for a strike.

"I certainly hope not and will do everything to find a satisfactory agreement. We don't have a hard attitude, but we want to make sure all the people who made money for the company are treated fairly.

"They (USW members) contributed to an unbelievable quarter for Alcoa and the company has expanded and grown dramatically over the last 10 years," Robinson told Reuters by telephone from his office in Gary, Indiana.

The talks in St. Louis will attempt to reach a new pact to replace one that expires on May 31. It covers approximately 20 percent of the more than 45,000 U.S. employees of the world's largest aluminum producer.

Both sides have said the four big issues are retiree healthcare, active workers' healthcare, a two-tier benefit structure for new hires, and outsourcing of some tasks.

"We have every intention of going to St. Louis to get an agreement, but there are some very difficult issues on the table," said Robinson. Asked if they were surmountable, he said: "Yes, but I don't want to speculate. We have been talking about the issues for some time."

He said the mood of his members, who work in smelters, extrusion and rolling operations, is "very serious. Alcoa's negotiators ... are taking it seriously, as they should."

Analyst Lloyd O'Carroll, of Davenport & Co., said he did not believe the chance of a strike was higher than 50 percent. "(But) we do believe that it could be significant," he said in a research note.

Charles Bradford, of Bradford Research/Soleil, said Alcoa would win in the long run if the smelters were closed, because it would push up the price of aluminum.

He recalled that in 1986, management kept operations going. "They ran the plants well last time; the union was the big loser. But what they (management) found out was that they could run the operations with 30 percent fewer workers."

Bradford said Alcoa did not reduce labor immediately, but it did over the next few years.

"Belda has to do something on health care; the auto industry -- Ford and GM -- and the steel industry have done it," he said. "But the bigger issue is whether there will be further job cuts."

David Brooks, deputy editor of the trade magazine American Metal Market, also believes some plants might be in danger of closing in the event of a long strike.

"Certain assets might not survive a lengthy labor action that puts them out of operation," he wrote, noting that Alcoa is building large, low-cost smelters abroad.

With little excess capacity in the system, some customers might be nervous of a strike, Brooks said. "The aerospace industry is front row center."

Bradford agreed: "Aerospace has long lead times, and that's where the crunch is."

Brooks said a strike would nevertheless be costly for the giant aluminum maker. "Alcoa has been under some pressure from Wall Street, which has not been enamored with its results lately. A lengthy strike would clearly damage earnings."

But he does not believe Alcoa will blink on the issue of health-care costs. "The company has staked its credibility on this issue," he said, noting the company had won concessions on the issue from other hourly-paid workers.

The Fight Over the Water Beneath Black Mesa

By Kathy Helms (ENS), WINDOW ROCK, Arizona

17th April 2006

The C Aquifer for Diné, a grassroots group opposing use of the Coconino Aquifer's water to slurry coal from Black Mesa Mine, is in Window Rock for the Navajo Nation Council Spring Session armed with a petition "to stop the Navajo water grab." The Spring Session opens today.

C-Aquifer for Diné President Calvin Johnson, Vice President Laura Chee, and adviser Anna Marie Frazier, said Navajos from throughout the western and central portions of the reservation came together April 3 at Leupp Chapter House and expressed total opposition to recently disclosed plans to pump and pipe Navajo groundwater from the C-Aquifer for industrial use associated with Peabody Western Coal Co.'s Black Mesa Mine.

Peabody Western is part of the world's largest coal company, Peabody Energy, and the aquifer at issue serves as a primary source of drinking water for the area's Hopi and Navajo residents.

The grassroots group, dedicated to preservation and protection of the C-aquifer, said Navajo residents from Leupp and neighboring communities organized under the umbrella of Diné Care. The new organization received the support of To Nizhoni Ani, another Navajo grassroots group defending the use of the Navajo Aquifer on Black Mesa.

"Together, these organizations and communities will converge on Window Rock for the Spring Session of the Navajo Nation Council, which is expected to consider the recent plans to dewater the C-Aquifer for coal transportation purposes," said Frazier.

"The united citizen army of Navajoland will also take Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley to task for his lead role in developing these plans and agreeing to drop a tribal lawsuit against Peabody for short-changing the tribe in coal royalties by $600 million," she said.

The Leupp Chapter and other local self-governing communities in the Western Navajo Agency have passed resolutions in recent years opposing the planned depletion of the C-Aquifer, "and, in fact, have had several meetings with President Shirley to address these critical concerns. Yet, Dr. Shirley has proceeded ahead with the secret negotiations and planning," the group said.

The group said the C-Aquifer plans were the result of years of secret negotiations conducted behind closed doors by Southern California Edison, Peabody, Salt River Project, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

The Department of Interior facilitated the private mediation sessions in which affected Navajo communities were not even invited to the table, they said.

But it's not just the Diné who have begun to question the high-level negotiations between the power companies and the tribes.

Former Hopi Vice Chairman Caleb Johnson said a recent issue of the Hopi newspaper "Tututveni" reported on a draft of the coal and water lease agreements which Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney was negotiating with Mohave stakeholders.

"Apparently, it was not to be released, but fortunately someone got a copy of it," Johnson said.

One item of major importance to the Hopi Tribe, according to Johnson, was an agreement by the Hopi and Navajo tribes "to drop existing lawsuits and waive all possible past, present and future legal claims for damage to groundwater."

"If this is the case, I would say that this was a critical mistake" by Chairman Sidney and President Shirley, said Johnson.

"Peabody Coal has always been most interested in this for two reasons," he said. "A lawsuit was filed by the Navajo Tribe against Peabody about 10 years ago. The Hopi Tribe, later on, joined in this lawsuit. Should the tribes be successful, this would bring to the tribes $600 million.

"Then there is another lawsuit, the RICO case, which would bring in three times that amount. According to the article, the agreement states that these cases will be dismissed with prejudice when Mohave returns to service. What this means is that these lawsuits will never be put in court again," Johnson said.

"My impression after the recent election of the Hopi chairman was that this negotiating effort to reopen Mohave power plant had been terminated with Mr. Wayne Taylor's defeat.

"In addition, my impression was that the Hopi people were in complete agreement with the goal of the Black Mesa Trust to close the Mohave power plant for good in order to save the water for our home use," Johnson said.

"In my opinion, the chairman of the Hopi Tribe and the president of the Navajo Tribe have made a critical mistake. I challenge both of them to visit every Hopi village and Navajo chapter and level with the common people on this issue.

"When Mr. Sidney was elected, he made a commitment to the people that he would keep them informed. As to this date, he has not kept this promise," Johnson said.

"In addition, the president of the Navajo Nation is up for re-election and I would suggest that he also level with his people. These elected leaders can no longer hide behind the door of confidentiality. The draft is out and there is no good news in it for the two tribes," he said.

Leaders of the Hopi and Navajo nations will be presented this week with the findings of a new scientific report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that predicts grave consequences for a structurally related aquifer, the N-Aquifer, if the Peabody water draw down is allowed to proceed.

The NRDC report concludes that Peabody has already exceeded legal limits established to protect Hopi and Navajo water supplies, and found that years of industrial pumping has already caused material damage to the vital resource.

"The new evidence confirms what the Hopi and Navajo have suspected for years - that Peabody is draining their main source of drinking water at a rate that cannot be sustained. Now the company wants a bigger straw to finish off the job," said Timothy Grabiel, an author of the NRDC report. "Based on this evidence, there's simply no way to justify letting them have it."

Officials from Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, have said they have seen no signs that Peabody is harming the aquifer.

But using the government's own data, NRDC found as early as 2000 that seven of nine monitored springs show a decline in excess of 10 percent and more than a third of monitored wells had fallen below the water level needed to guarantee against collapse or contamination of the underground reservoir.

"The NRDC report raises serious red flags that Peabody's activities are harming the Navajo Aquifer and, therefore, our way of life," said Enei Begaye, an activist fighting to protect tribal resources. "Our leaders must take a hard look at this new evidence."

The Navajo Aquifer annually supplies approximately 4,500 acre-feet of water used to convey coal to the Mohave power plant in addition to about 3,000 acre-feet for community use.

Peabody uses the water to produce a slurry made of water and pulverized coal and pumps the slurry across 273 miles of desert to the Southern California Edison Company's Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada.

Although pumping stopped when the plant was shut late last year under a consent decree involving air emissions, Peabody wants to extend its permit to operate the mine, anticipating that the power plant may be retrofitted, and come back online.

In Peabody's view, continued operation of the Mohave Generating Station is in the public interest, because it provides low-cost electricity, hundreds of jobs and a stable revenue source for the Hopi and Navajo nations.

Peabody Energy says on its website that, "The tribes and Mohave stakeholders have come together to support development of the Coconino Aquifer, the largest water source in the Lower Colorado River Basin, which spans more than 27,000 square miles in Arizona."

"The parties are engaged in intensive discussions to make the new water source a reality," says Peabody.

The plan would provide water to transport coal and "could also potentially help build tribal water infrastructure," the company says.

The Coconino Aquifer is three times the size of the Navajo Aquifer. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is conducting a study of the C-Aquifer that includes geophysical studies, aquifer testing and aquifer modeling to determine whether or not the aquifer will be protected with this additional proposed use. The study is expected to be released later this year.

{Published in cooperation with the Gallup Independent.}

Protest Newmont Mining, Denver, Colorado, April 25, 2006. Please spread the word.

American Indian Movement of Colorado Press Statement,

16th April 2006

Colorado AIM will stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples from around the globe on April 25, 2006 at the Newmont International Headquarters, 1700 Lincoln St., Denver, CO, in a vigorous protest at Newmont's annual shareholder's meeting. Representatives from indigenous communities that have been adversely affected by Newmont will be arriving in Denver from Peru, Ghana, Western Shoshone, the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State, and perhaps other locations.

Colorado AIM condemns the actions of Newmont that destroy the water, earth and air through its operations in places such as Peru, Nevada, Ghana and Indonesia, but also in the territories of indigenous peoples in Mexico, Canada, Australia, Bolivia and the Philippines.

Equally, we deplore and condemn the explorations and proposed operations of Newmont in the Black Hills of South Dakota, an area sacred to several indigenous nations of the Great Plains region. We also call on Newmont immediately to fulfill its responsibility to clean up radioactive uranium waste on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State.

Indigenous peoples have been protecting their territories and water over the past several years, and they continue actively to confront the destructive practices of Newmont.

á Last week, in Sumbawa, Indonesia, community members expressed their opposition to Newmont's operations by setting ablaze a number of pieces of Newmont's machinery, forcing the corporation to close its Batu Hijau Copper Pit until further notice.

á Tens of thousand of indigenous people marched on Newmont's operations at Yanacocha, Peru. These actions forced Newmont to cancel plans to expand its open pit mines to the sacred mountain of Quillish.

á The Western Shoshone Nation (Nevada) recently received a victory at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The decision called for an end to the collusion between the United States government and corporations such as Newmont, in the theft of Western Shoshone resources in violation of the 1863 Ruby Valley.

The courage and integrity of native peoples around the world in resisting the eco-terrorism of Newmont is an inspiration to us in Colorado AIM. When representatives of these struggles come to Newmont's international headquarters here in Denver, the source of the misery in their communities, we will welcome our relatives, and we will show them that they are not alone in their quests for environmental justice. We will call on local and state officials to demand responsibility from this corporate criminal in our midst.

We will stand shoulder to shoulder in support of our indigenous relatives, and any people who choose love of earth and love of life, over love greed and love of profits.

We intend to shine a bright light on Newmont and its destructive operations. We intend to hold Nemmont accountable for what it has done, and for what it continues to do.

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