Obama again looks pretty much like Bush, this time allowing mining companies to dump toxic waste on public land
April 3, 2010
In my post on the week’s biggest enviro news – Obama’s massive expansion of offshore oil drilling – I noted that increasingly, Obama's environmental decisions are indistinguishable from those made by the previous inhabitant of the White House. Nothing demonstrates that better than this week’s biggest sleeper enviro news: Obama approving dumping of small mountains of toxic waste on public land.
It’s all related to the General Mining Law of 1872, which even today gives mining companies access to gold, silver and other precious metals on public land – without asking the mining firms to pay anything to the public for the minerals taken off public land.
Obama's decision this week – which has gotten very little attention – backs the Bush administration's stance: allow mining companies to use large amounts of land around their mines to dump mining waste laced with all kinds of nasty stuff.
To really get the picture of how industrial-scale gold mining is done in America today, you have to understand that whole hillsides are ground to dust and then doused with cyanide to extract the tiny percentages of gold contained in the ore.
After that, these whole hillsides worth of dirt have to go somewhere. Miners want to use public land for that. The Bush administration said OK. This week, so did the Obama administration, acting in a case in which enviros challenged a Bush-era decision allowing the waste dumping on so-called “millsite” land around the actual mine.
Our interest in this subject dates to our expose' on how the 1872 law still is wreaking havoc in the West, allowing mining companies to start up operations, rip out huge hillsides and then go toes-up when notoriously volatile metals prices plunge. Left the way God made them, these hillsides are harmless. Treated this way, they acidify literally thousands of miles of Western streams.
Politics are written all over Obama's decision. It comes as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a tough re-election fight. He hails from the biggest gold-mining state in the nation, Nevada, where support of the gold industry is a key to re-election. (Not to mention that Reid is a son of a miner, and grew up in the mining community of Searchlight, Nev.)
And check out this item that ran in Nevada during Obama’s campaign that seems to presage Obama’s recent move. It’s from a progressive website called the Las Vegas Gleaner, outlining the goings-on of an Obama phone call with reporters, and includes this passage:
“The bulk of the call, somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, was taken up with questions and answers about federal mining law reform. On that issue, Obama appears to be for ... whatever Harry Reid says he should be for.”
This issue deserves more attention than I’ve given it here tonight. But it’s late on a Friday night and I have to head for home at some point if I want to see my wife for a few hours before returning to my office Saturday morning for more fun and games. The Gleaner's piece gives a pretty good rundown of the situation if you'd like to know more. And of course we've covered this here at Dateline Earth in the past, too.
-- Robert McClure
Public Health | April 2014
We update our 2013 series on Washington’s estimated fish consumption rate with news of a private meeting where Gov. Jay Inslee and his advisers wrestled with how much to protect business versus consumers when it comes to water pollution in the fish we eat.
Consumer Safety | April 2014
Manufacturers put a warning sticker on every ATV sold: The vehicles aren't meant for roads. But a push to allow just that is rolling out across the country. Washington and three other states passed new laws in 2013, among 22 states to allow or expand ATV access to roads since 2004.
Wealth & Poverty | December 2013
It's the unexpected catch in catch-share programs: A federal program that was supposed to help preserve and enhance the fishing economy in Kake, Alaska, has instead helped cause a severe decline. Meanwhile, 50 miles southeast, the town of Petersburg is booming.
The third part in our trilogy of fish stories examines the consequences catch-share policy where it was born, even as the model has been established in 14 other U.S. fisheries, encompassing dozens of species ranging from New England scallops to Pacific sole.
Foster Care | November 2013
State law now allows more kids to stay in foster care for an extra three years — until age 21. But many either refuse the help, or fail to qualify for it.
An investigation by KUOW in collaboration with InvestigateWest looks at why this transition to adulthood is trickier than expected – for foster kids, and for the state.
Public Health | September 2013
Of the roughly 50,000 kids who will attend Seattle schools this fall, nearly 2,000 will hit the books in classrooms within 500 feet of Interstate 5, InvestigateWest has found. This despite a body of evidence dating back decades that highway air pollution can cause lifelong respiratory problems and asthma attacks and boost school absenteeism.
From Seattle to Spokane, what can be done to make sure schools are healthy places for kids?
Photo: John Marshall JHS, 1963. SPSA 108-97.
Public Health | July 2013
Memory loss is one of the symptoms of dementia. So is wandering. Over the last five years, at least 10 people in Washington state have died after wandering away from where they live. It’s a problem that communities will have to confront as the population ages. But not all police departments are prepared for these kinds of incidents.
Wealth & Poverty | June 2013
Six nonprofit groups arose on the Bering Sea shore, and they have invested mightily in ships, real estate and processing plants. Over two decades, the groups amassed a combined net worth of $785 million," write Lee van der Voo and The New York Times' Kirk Johnson.
But the results on the ground, in rural community and economic development, have been deeply uneven, and nonexistent for many people who still gaze out to the blinking lights of the factory ships and wonder what happened. Photo Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times