Golddiggers rule the roost
Ever been to Maggie Creek in northeastern Nevada, not far from Elko? It’s a lovely stream, one of Nevada’s last drainage basins with the potential to support large populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout.
In the same vicinity lie the gold mines of the Carlin Trend, a 40-mile northwest/southeast line of major gold deposits—our nation’s most prolific gold-producing region. One mine, Newmont Corp.'s Gold Quarry, was in the news last week when a Nevada high court panel reversed an April ruling that had held Newmont to stringent water discharge standards.
Put simply: Newmont was freed from its responsibilities to the Clean Water Act and to Nevada’s H2O aficionados.
It’s always good to see a government of the people fighting for the rights of transnational corporations to gunk up our water, our air—or basically do whatever they feel like doing. After all, who contributes large sums of money to help elected officials get elected?
Perhaps I’m being unfair. It’s true that Newmont talks a good game when it comes to the environment in general and Maggie Creek in specific. Company reps boast about how Newmont has worked to restore the riparian wildlife habitat around Maggie Creek.
It’d seem, then, that a “caring” company wouldn’t mind complying with stringent restrictions on the water it pumps from its deep open-pit mine and discharges into the Humboldt River by way of Maggie Creek. Such a caring company would welcome the chance to clean up its act.
Instead Newmont fights accountability at every turn. The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection is the state agency that regulates mining. Yet it issued a permit in 2002 that apparently allowed Newmont to increase its toxic discharge into Maggie Creek. In 2004, Carson City District Court Judge Bill Maddox decided that, among other things, this increase violated the Clean Water Act’s “antibacksliding” provision, which requires new permits to decrease a polluter’s toxic releases, not let them pollute more.
So Maddox voided the 2002 permit for Newmont. He called for more stringent water discharge standards—like those required under Newmont’s 1994 permit. Though that represented no net improvement from the toxic discharge of the decade previous, it was still hailed as a victory for groups like Great Basin Mine Watch (GBMW).
Newmont was not pleased. It appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. In April, the court upheld the decision. Hurrah! Activists rejoiced.
But last week a panel of three justices—Michael Douglas, Nancy Becker and Ron Parraguirre—reconsidered the case and agreed, in effect, that the NDEP hadn’t acted wrongly in allowing increased discharges because, uh, “the easing of some water discharge limits in the updated permit resulted from the need to correct technical and legal errors made in the original permit,” according to an Associated Press account. The NDEP denied the changes were designed to benefit Newmont. The NDEP doesn’t lie.
This depressing outcome reminds me that, in the Business-is-God model of conservatism, corporations can do no wrong. Making money is good. Government should step aside and not tell businesses how much to pay employees or force companies to pay overtime or to provide health insurance. Government should not prevent companies from releasing as much cancer-causing toxic waste as desired into the earth, sky or water.
If government demands accountability, the companies will take their jobs overseas where toxic pollutants are lauded as population control and where workers who try to unionize can simply disappear.
Where does this leave the rest of humankind—from workers to enjoyers of clean water? Perhaps we’re motivated to do a little activism of our own. A visit to the GBMW Web site (www.greatbasinminewatch.org) might be a good place to begin.