Coral or coal decision looms for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – by Sonali Paul (January 30, 2014)

MELBOURNE – (Reuters) – Australia’s Great Barrier Reef watchdog is to decide by Friday whether to allow millions of cubic metres of dredged mud to be dumped near the fragile reef to create the world’s biggest coal port and possibly unlock $28 billion in coal projects.

A dumping permit would allow a major expansion of the port of Abbot Point for two Indian firms and Australian billionaire miner Gina Rinehart, who together have $16 billion worth of coal projects in the untapped, inland Galilee Basin.

The Galilee Basin could double Australia’s thermal coal exports and see it overtake Indonesia as the world’s top coal exporter, further fuelling China’s power plants and steel mills that have underpinned Australia’s decade-long mining boom.

If the permit is not granted it would add to uncertainty over $28 billion in proposed Galilee Basin projects, already delayed due to difficulty raising funds with coal prices down.

The plan has sparked protests from environmentalists and scientists who fear the sensitive marine park will be damaged by the dumping and an expanded port, would nearly double shipping traffic through the reef, increasing the risk of accidents.

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Yukon Government Opens Vast Wilderness to Mining – by Tom Clynes (National Geographic – January 24, 2014)

Indigenous leaders, conservation groups vow legal challenge.

Canada’s Yukon Territory announced on Tuesday that it has opened one of the largest unbroken wilderness areas in North America to mining and mineral exploration.

The government’s decree stunned indigenous leaders, who support a 2011 plan developed under Yukon land claims treaties that would have maintained the wilderness character of 80 percent of the area, which is known as the Peel watershed region. The government’s new plan all but reverses that figure, opening some 71 percent of the watershed to mining.

The Yukon features some of Canada’s highest peaks and largest glaciers, as well as tremendous expanses of lake-dotted tundra, boreal forests, and wetlands. (See “Yukon: Canada’s Wild West” in the February issue of National Geographic magazine.) It’s also rich in wildlife, with extreme seasonal shifts that beckon vast herds of caribou and other animals into motion. Larger than California but with only 37,000 inhabitants, the territory has been mostly empty of humans since the Klondike Stampede ended in the 1890s.

In recent years a new gold rush has brought a spike in population and prosperity to towns like Whitehorse and Dawson.

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Essar comes under Greenpeace attack (Business Standard – January 22, 2014) [Mumbai]

Greenpeace activists scale Essar’s 21-storey headquarters in Mumbai to protest against the company’s proposed mine in Mahan forest, Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh

After taking on the Tatas, the Adanis and the Vedanta group, activists of pro-environment body Greenpeace took on the Essar group on Wednesday regarding the Mahan coal mining project in Madhya Pradesh. It organised demonstrations outside the Essar offices here and in London.

An Essar spokesperson said Greenpeace activists, masquerading as building cleaning agents, gained access to the company’s office in Mumbai. “In this illegal act, the trespassers misused the office premises to spread anti-corporate, misleading and false propaganda,” the spokesperson said. “These people suspended themselves from the top of the building. In doing so, they endangered lives of those working in the building and disrupted normal working of the employees,” he said. The police later arrested all activists for trespassing, the official said.

The Supreme Court had last year allowed gram sabhas (village councils) in Odisha to decide the fate of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh plant, meant to make aluminium by excavating bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills, the latter revered by the villagers as a sacred place.

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[Suzuki] An admission of bombast – by Lorne Gunter (Toronto Sun – January 21, 2014)

Last fall, David Suzuki, the high priest of Canadian enviro-alarmism, used an eco-conference to predict the likelihood of another Japanese earthquake comparable in size to the March 2011 monster Tohoku quake at “over 95% … in the next three years.”

True to his all-scaremongering, all-the-time form, Suzuki predicted that when a second catastrophic seismic event occurred, the remaining fuel rods at the Fukushima power plant would unleash a nuclear disaster that would mean “bye bye Japan” and would force an evacuation of the entire North American west coast.

This is about as crazy as the hoaxes circulating around the Internet claiming that a giant squid, driven eastward by radiation emanating from Japan, had beached itself at Santa Monica, Calif., or that 98% of the Pacific’s sea bottom is strewn with irradiated fish. (In fact, less than 5% of the Pacific’s floor has even been mapped, so knowing what is on 98% of it is impossible.)

This week, Suzuki told the Vancouver Province that he had stirred up his Japanese quake scenario “off-the-cuff” and he now regretted being so bombastic.

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Coal mining, selenium, and the costs of toxic pollutants – by Mark Hume (Globe and Mail – January 20, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

VANCOUVER — Sutton Lake, near Wilmington, North Carolina, isn’t a place many British Columbians have heard about. But it might not be long before it is cited in court documents here, because of a study that quantifies the cost of replacing fish killed by pollutants.

The 1,100-acre lake was created in 1971 on land owned by Duke Energy to cool water coming from the Sutton Steam Plant. To form the lake, the power company had to dam a creek, which the state government approved only on the condition the reservoir was developed as a public fishery.

The company agreed – and soon had created a place where the fishing was so good it became the focus of bass tournaments.

Sutton Lake, however, was also polluted with selenium leaching from coal ash stored in nearby waste pits. And that’s why Sutton Lake is relevant in Canada, where selenium pollution produced by coal, uranium and bitumen extraction is of growing concern.

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Global Gold Rush: The Price of Mining Pursuits On The Water Supply – by Codi Yeager-Kozacek (Circle of Blue – June 15, 2012)

Editor’s Note: While this posting is somewhat dated, it is definitely worth a read!

Circle of Blue, founded in 2002 and based in Traverse City, Michigan, is a non-profit affiliate of the Pacific Institute, and the premier news organization in the world covering freshwater issues

Water supplies remain key to the global boom in gold mining, driven by high demand and near-record prices.

Driven by historically high gold prices and increased interest from foreign investors, mining boomtowns are springing up all over the world and wreaking a rising toll on water resources and the environment. Many places where new mines are being opened and old ones expanded, local authorities and residents are reporting mounting evidence of severe water pollution from gold mining, which has intensified due to a nearly 50 percent per year increase in mining exploration budgets over the past two years.

In Romania, billions of Euros and thousands of jobs — a boon for an economically depressed region — are being weighed against the environmental impact of what would be Europe’s largest open-cast gold mine. In South Africa, the world’s fifth-largest gold producer, the government is struggling to deal with pollution from acid mine drainage and hundreds of tailings dams.

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Rio Tinto’s Michigan Nickel Mine Introduces Citizen Water Quality Testing Program – by Codi Kozacek (Circle of Blue – January 8, 2014)

Circle of Blue, founded in 2002 and based in Traverse City, Michigan, is a non-profit affiliate of the Pacific Institute, and the premier news organization in the world covering freshwater issues

Scheduled to begin production of nickel and copper next year, the Eagle Mine is the first new hard rock mine to open in northern Michigan’s Copper Country in decades. It’s so new that Chevy pickups need Kevlar tires to prevent blowouts on the sharp edges of stones not yet worn by mine traffic.

Puncture-proof tires, though, are hardly the only distinctions that separate the Eagle Mine from others in Michigan or across the United States. Two years ago, Rio Tinto, the mine’s developer, made an unusual proposition to the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust, a local environmental organization.

Upended by a decade of civic protest over opening the Eagle Mine in the ecologically sensitive Yellow Dog Plains, the London-based mining company, which operates all over the world, wanted to try something very different in Michigan’s wild and water-rich Upper Peninsula. It offered to fund the Watershed Partnership to monitor environmental parameters, like water and air quality.

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Advocates want Canada to protect even more of its boreal forest – by Bob Weber (Canadian Press/Waterloo Record – January 6, 2014)

Canada has made significant strides in protecting the vast boreal forest that stretches across most of its provinces and territories, but the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem still faces threats, says an environmental group.

The amount of boreal forest under some form of government protection has doubled since 2007 to about 12 per cent of the total area, biologist Jeff Wells of the Canadian Boreal Initiative said recently. “That’s a big rate of increase in a short time and we’re hoping that’s going to continue,” he said.

The boreal forest is the huge swath of green that stretches from Newfoundland to the Yukon. It’s home to millions of migratory birds, harbours endangered wildlife such as caribou and shelters hundreds of wetlands that clean water and store carbon.

A total of 708,000 square kilometres is now protected by government. Another 460,000 square kilometres are being harvested through sustainable practices such as those outlined by the Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests by setting standards, and certifying and labelling wood products.

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Small-Scale Gold Mining Pollutes Indonesian Lands – by Joe Cochrane (New York Times – January 3, 2014)

CISITU, Indonesia — In the remote mountains of West Java, workers like 15-year-old David Mario Chandra are an integral part of Indonesia’s gold industry.

A workshop next to his family’s house in Cisitu, in Banten Province, contains machinery that turns gold ore into usable nuggets. The procedure seems simple enough: The crushed ore is tumbled with other ingredients in cylinders called balls until the valuable stuff is amalgamated. But there is a crucial material — and a final step — that alarms environmental and health experts around the world.

“We put 15 kilograms of gold ore and water into each ball, and we use 100 grams of mercury per ball,” or 3.5 ounces for 33 pounds of ore, said David, who runs the family’s workshop. Workers then purify the nuggets using an open flame, burning off the mercury in sites among residential areas throughout the village.

Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental campaigner based in Britain, says the scope of the problem is evident in the amount of mercury being exported from around the world to Indonesia, her home country. Most of it, she says, is brought in illegally.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Trade, the country imported slightly less than one metric ton of mercury in 2012 through two local companies, primarily for commercial manufacturing, including the production of light bulbs and batteries, and for use in hospital equipment.

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Lawsuit filed in Washington state claims B.C. [Teck] smelter’s toxins caused disease – by Dene Moore (Canadian Press/Vancouver Sun – December 21, 2013)

A Washington state woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B), claiming toxic pollutants from the company’s smelter in southeastern British Columbia are to blame for her breast cancer diagnosis and other health ailments.

Barbara Anderson is a longtime resident of Northport, Wash., a small community about 30 kilometres south of Teck’s lead and zinc smelter in Trail.

The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District Court says Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and inflammatory bowel disease in 2010.

“Teck negligently, carelessly and recklessly generated, handled, stored, treated, disposed of and failed to control and contain the metals and other toxic substances at the Trail smelter, resulting in the release of toxic substances and exposure of plaintiff and the proposed class,” says the claim, filed Thursday.

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RepRisk Releases “Special Report on Consumer Electronics: The Human Toll Behind the Mining”

Zurich, December 18, 2013 – RepRisk’s latest “Special Report on Consumer Electronics: The Human Toll Behind the Mining” highlights the social and environmental issues associated with sourcing the minerals required for the manufacturing of everyday electronic products.

While the sale of cell phones, laptops, tablets and other consumer electronics is booming, mining of metals and minerals worldwide have been directly linked to violence, armed conflict and grave human rights abuses. Many developing countries rich in mineral resources have been torn apart by brutal conflict as a result of their natural wealth.

Certain studies have suggested that 40 percent of all intrastate conflicts in the last 60 years have been linked to natural resources. Human rights groups have repeatedly drawn attention to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in particular, where minerals have spurred regional conflict by helping to finance various domestic and international armed groups.

RepRisk has identified numerous news articles, which have linked mining activities to violent repression by police and armed forces, forced displacements, overuse of water and other basic necessities, environmental degradation, child labor, as well as poor and dangerous working conditions.

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Miners faced environmental and political challenges around the world in 2013 – by Craig Wong (Canadian Press – December 17, 2013)

OTTAWA – After years of riding surging metal prices and spending freely on takeover deals and massive new projects, Canadian miners were forced to tighten their belts in 2013 as the cycle turned against them.

The industry took billions in write downs as companies re-evaluated projects that they believed were worth far more just a couple of years ago and slashed spending as falling commodity prices squeezed margins.

But it wasn’t just financial problems for the miners, as political and environmental issues made headlines around the world for several Canadian mining companies.

The largest company to face problems was Barrick Gold, which suspended nearly all of the work at its massive Pascua-Lama project high in the Andes mountain range.

The halt followed massive cost overruns and protests from an indigenous community living below the project who tried to have Barrick’s licence revoked and force a new environmental impact study.

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B.C. mines minister to lobby for New Prosperity project – by Derrick Penner (Vancouver Sun – December 10, 2013)

Environmental review found long list of concerns, but Bill Bennett says B.C. economy needs the mine

Mines Minister Bill Bennett is heading to Ottawa to support the contentious New Prosperity mine proposal in the Cariboo, the minister said Tuesday.

Bennett, speaking to project boosters brought together by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver, said he will go to the national capital Thursday to tell his federal counterparts that the province considers the $1.5-billion New Prosperity mine an important piece in its economic plan.

“I’m going to seek to influence the decision, of course,” Bennett said to reporters. “I want them to say yes because they can say yes. I want to make sure they have all the information to do that.”

A decision on whether the open-pit copper-gold mine goes ahead rests with federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. She is studying a second review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which concluded the mine would have significant environmental impacts. Taseko Mines Ltd. is disputing a major element that went into that conclusion.

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Court overturns B.C. government’s ruling that rejected mine – by Matthew Robinson and Derrick Penner (Vancouver Sun – December 10, 2013)

Ministers’ decision to stop $2.5-billion project failed test of ‘procedural fairness,’ judge says

VANCOUVER — Prospects for a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine in northern B.C. improved this week after a B.C. Supreme Court justice turfed a previous decision by two senior provincial government ministers to reject the project.

Pacific Booker Minerals Inc. asked the B.C. Supreme Court in April to overturn Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman’s rejection last September of its $2.5-billion mining project, located 65 km north of Smithers at Morrison Lake. In a decision released Monday, Justice Kenneth Affleck set aside the ministers’ decision, raising the possibility the mine could yet proceed.

“(The) ministers’ decision refusing to issue the certificate failed to comport with the requirements of procedural fairness,” wrote Affleck in his decision, which awarded costs to the company.

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UN’s war on coal threatens environmental progress in world’s desperate regions – by Donna Laframboise (National Post – December 4, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Activists want new coal plants banned outright

In Warsaw last month, Christiana Figueres, an unelected United Nations bureaucrat, demanded that the World Coal Association embrace three dubious and implausible ideas. This industry must, she said, shut down a particular class of coal plant, install as-yet-unavailable carbon-capture technology on any newly constructed facilities, and “leave most existing reserves in the ground.”

In the first instance, the implications of her words weren’t immediately apparent. But a 2012 International Energy Agency report reveals that when she speaks blithely of closing “all existing subcritical plants,” she’s advocating the mothballing of 100% of South Africa’s coal fleet, 99% of India’s, 97% of Poland’s, and 90% of Australia’s.

It turns out Figueres’ standards are so pie-in-the-sky that 79% of Germany’s coal facilities, 75% of China’s, 73% of America’s, and 71% of Russia’s don’t make the cut, either. All told, this UN official believes three-quarters of the world’s existing coal fleet — fully one third of the global electricity supply — should be taken offline.

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