Tuesday, February 12, 2008

President Clinton Acts on Yellowstone Gold Mine – Parallels with the Geocom-Kinross Gold Mine in Chile’s Futaleufu River Valley (Part 2)

In this series of articles we revisit the plans of Canadian mining conglomerate, Noranda Inc. to open a Gold Mine a few kilometers from Yellowstone National Park and how the project was halted by the Clinton Administration.

President Clinton is vacationing this year in western Wyoming, playing golf and reveling in the wonders of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Last Friday, too late for the evening news shows, he took a crucial first step toward protecting Yellowstone and much of the adjacent wilderness from an environmental catastrophe.

This disaster-in-waiting is the proposed New World mine, which a Canadian conglomerate, Noranda, wants to build on land it controls in the upper reaches of Montana's Henderson Mountain, less than three miles from Yellowstone and in the watershed of the irreplaceable Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River. Conservationists reasonably fear that the 5.5 million tons of waste the company wants to bury in an active earthquake area will ruin this sensitive watershed in America's first and most important conservation zone.

Mr. Clinton toured the mine site by helicopter and then declared a moratorium on mining activity on 4,500 acres of Federal land surrounding the site. The moratorium will not affect the actual site, to which the Canadian company has legal title, and will therefore not by itself stop the mine. But it tightens the noose around the company and signals the need for further action to block the mine if the Canadian company does not read this Presidential order as a signal of American resolve to protect its oldest national park.

The most controversial aspect of the project is a proposed tailings impoundment -- a deep reservoir the size of 70 football fields -- where the company would store acid wastes. Reputable geologists say that given the region's extreme weather and history of earthquakes, any such structure is bound to crack at some point in the future.

The reservoir would be built on 56 acres of wetlands that lie under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers. If the Corps denies a permit to build, the company will have to look elsewhere to store its toxic wastes. Nearly every suitable alternate site is on the 4,500 acres the President has ruled off limits. The company may then be forced to truck its wastes to a site miles away -- an operation that could be prohibitively expensive.

This drama is not over. But the President has now ratcheted up the discomfort level. He deserves credit for responding to the rising outrage among the national environmental community over what the miners and some shortsighted Western politicians have tried to portray as a strictly local issue. Heretofore, Mr. Clinton has often disappointed those who thought he would bring a new level of environmental consciousness to Washington. This time he seems to have gotten the message that some places are too precious to sacrifice to a 19th-century mining law that needs to be repealed for both economic and environmental reasons.

Here is the full article originally published on Aug. 29, 1996