The North Fork Valley and its surroundings — managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Uncompahgre Field Office — is an exceptionally beautiful place. Located on the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the valley is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in Colorado, and is renowned for its outdoor reaction. Many in the region have worked hard to transition the local economy from coal mining to more sustainable industries such as agriculture, tourism, recreation, and the arts. Now this cleaner economy is under threat.
A few weeks ago, both Earthworks and the San Carlos Apache Tribe filed lawsuits challenging the US Forest Service’s choice to do an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the impacts of work needed to better characterize the publicly-owned lands on which Resolution Copper wants to dump 1.5 billion tons (no, that is not a typo – billions with a B) of mine waste over a half dozen square miles near the San Carlos Apache’s reservation, east of Phoenix, Arizona. The Forest Service chose an EA instead of a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which considers the option of not building the dump.
Last week, NASA released a follow-up study on its 2014 report that exposed a huge methane hotspot looming over the Four Corners. In the original report, NASA did not know what was causing this highly unusual density of methane pollution. The agency’s latest report drilled deeper to find the source of the pollution: the oil and gas industry.
In late April, Pacific Environment invited me to attend a conference in Novosibirsk dealing with the impacts of placer (stream bed) gold mining in various regions throughout Siberia. The conference -- consisting of about 20 civic leaders and scientists from throughout Russia -- intended to share new information and build a more unified national strategy to minimize the incredible damage being done by this industry. I was invited to share my experience with mining-related campaigns, coalitions and networks in the United States, and to investigate ways that some of these experiences might help the Russians as they build their power and influence to take their campaigns to the next level.
The passage of the Oak Flat Land Exchange -- that terrible piece of legislation buried within the depths of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act -- was the last major piece of news regarding the proposed Resolution Copper Mine near Superior, Arizona. This is the mine that would destroy the publicly owned Oak Flat -- the area sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and the place used for decades by rock climbers, campers and hikers.
It’s early December, and I’m siting in a mega-church packed with more than 500 people. They’re here to listen to an update on the efforts to contain an enormous natural gas blowout that occurred more than a month before. Gas from the leak is being blown by prevailing winds right into their community of Porter Ranch, in Los Angeles County, CA.
People are mad.
Last Wednesday, the US experienced one of its worst mining-related disasters in decades, and it’s received a lot of attention both here in Colorado and nationally. There’s been no shortage of name calling and blaming, but few seem to be speaking of the bigger picture: how can we learn from this and write policies and regulations that stop this from happening again?
Last week I travelled to Albuquerque to attend an EPA-hosted national technical conference on “Mining Influenced Waters” – a toned-down phrase that describes water pollution caused by mining. The cases laid out were all severe enough to warrant multi-million dollar remedial actions and treatment operations, and at most of these sites, someone will be footing the bill forever.
That’s right. A growing number of mine sites discharge such severely polluted water that they will require water treatment for hundreds to thousands of years, or “in perpetuity” to meet water quality standards that protect human health and aquatic life. Earthworks released a report in 2013 that documents this escalating national dilemma.