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Proposed large-scale mining is raising concerns among residents of remote communities in Ecuador. Copper mining is underway, new mines are proposed, and citizens fear their voices will not be heard.
“They lack information they can trust,” says Meche Lu, ELAW Staff Scientist, “They need information and they want to participate in the decision-making processes.”
Earlier this month, Meche traveled to remote regions of Ecuador to participate in workshops for community leaders and residents seeking information about the real impacts of mining and how to review Environmental Impact Assessments for proposed projects.
“Large scale metal mining is proposed in areas with high rainfall and rugged terrain,” says Meche. “This poses substantial risk of soil erosion, water pollution, and acid mine drainage. The biggest local concern is acid mine drainage.”
Mining operations are proposed for Ecuador’s sub-tropical Andes in fragile ecosystems such as the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, home to the endangered spectacled bear and jaguar. Subsistence farmers and indigenous peoples here support themselves growing coffee, fruit, and sugarcane. They have been fighting gold and copper mining for years.
ELAW is pleased to work with local partners at ECOLEX to help the people of Ecuador understand their legal rights and make their voices heard about short-sighted mining projects.
We will keep you informed of our progress!
Central America is home to breathtaking beaches, islands, mountains, and forests. Unfortunately, proposed mining threatens many of these natural treasures.
ELAW Board Member and mining expert Glenn Miller traveled to Panama and Honduras last week to collaborate with ELAW partners at the Environmental Advocacy Center (Centro de Incidencia Ambiental, CIAM) and the Environmental Law Institute (Instituto de Derecho Ambiental de Honduras, IDAMHO) to protect communities and the environment from mining industry abuses.
In Panama, Glenn flew by helicopter to see first hand the destruction caused by copper and gold mines.
“We followed the erosion to the coast and saw a large plume of sediment that was being sent to the coral reef… We also saw a reportedly bankrupt gold mine that had ponds that were near overflowing and no real management of the excess water,” said Glenn.
In both countries, Glenn met with regulators, public health experts, NGO staff, and community members interested in learning about the real impact of mining operations. Photos from his helicopter tour make clear the hazards of unregulated mining.
“It has been amazing and a great success to have Glenn in Panama,” says Sonia Montenegro. “CIAM staff and the conference participants keep talking about how much they learned.”
Public interest attorneys communicating with the government and affected communities are key to protecting the environment through law and key to ELAW’s work. Courageous ELAW partners like the team at CIAM are working to prevent and remedy mining abuses and ensure that all Panamanians and Hondurans have access to a healthy, clean environment.
When Deminikus Bebari and Johannes Deikme, tribal representatives of the Amungme people of West Papua, Indonesia, visited Eugene for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) earlier this year, they made it a point to meet with the ELAW team.
The Grasberg mine, one of the world’s largest gold mines, is located near Tembagapura, West Papua. The mine displaced the Amungme people in 1973. Since then, local rivers and springs used for drinking water have been contaminated and the mine has destroyed the top of a mountain the Amungme hold sacred.
Deminikus and Johannes traveled to the United States to shine a light on the environmental and cultural devastation caused by the Grasberg mine. They met with members of the ELAW team who are now providing legal and scientific support.
We will keep you posted about our work with the Amungme. Many thanks for your interest!
We are pleased to announce 10 years of collaboration with Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste (DAN) — an inspiring organization of dedicated environmental leaders working to protect Mexico’s Baja California.
DAN attorney Maria Llano stopped by our office last week to celebrate our partnership and discuss the threat of an enormous open pit gold mine proposed for Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve.
Maria Llano (center) meets with ELAW staff
The proposed project would include a desalination plant, a 40-km aqueduct from the coast to the project site, and water-filled ponds for disposing of high volumes of cyanide soaked waste rock.
“The disposal method poses serious risk,” says Mark Chernaik, ELAW Staff Scientist. “The tailings ponds could contaminate water supplies and the local habitat with acid mine drainage, and once the mining operation is over it will be impossible to return the site to its former condition.”
SEMARNAT (Mexico’s EPA) denied permission for the project twice, but a third Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been submitted for an even larger project.
“The new version is worse than the original, calling for disposal of wastes in a thinner slurry that will impact a even larger area of undeveloped land,” says Mark.
ELAW’s science team worked closely with Maria and her colleagues at DAN to review the series of EIAs for the proposed gold mine.
“Now we have to wait until SEMARNAT makes a decision, hopefully rejecting the project again,” says Maria. “If not, we will continue the struggle to promote the rule of law, and protect the biodiversity and the quality of life in the region.
We will keep you informed of our progress in Mexico and around the world to level the playing field for grassroots advocates and local communities.
& Fellows Program Coordinator
In Africa, corporations seeking oil, gas, gold, and timber threaten agricultural lands, waterways, and national parks. ELAW is working with local advocates to level the playing field for threatened communities. Together we are:
- Strengthening hydraulic fracturing regulations in South Africa.
- Reviewing and improving gold mining concession agreements in Ghana.
- Protecting communities around Kenya’s Lake Turkana from oil development schemes.
- Building strong NGOs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda that will work to protect communities and the environment for years to come.
- Creating strategic tools to dissect complicated natural resource concession contracts and advocate for stronger environmental, social, and fiscal provisions.
Next month, we will welcome Harriet Bibangambah, a Ugandan environmental advocate working with ELAW partner organization Greenwatch, for a two-week ELAW Fellowship. Harriet will work with the ELAW team and attend the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon School of Law.
Stay tuned for more updates about ELAW’s work in Africa and Harriet’s Fellowship.
In 1994, I had the pleasure of traveling to Africa for ELAW for the first time. ELAW was looking for lawyers working to protect people’s right to live in a healthy environment. We wanted to learn how we could support their efforts and help them connect with their colleagues around the world. During that trip, I met inspiring young lawyers in Kenya and Tanzania who, like me, had recently graduated from law school and were passionate about protecting communities and the environment.
Nearly 20 years later, I returned to work with those pioneering lawyers, now the experienced generation, to connect with the next generation of advocates representing the public interest through law. In the face of massive investments by extractive industries in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, these advocates are needed now more than ever.
Communities in Turkana County are among the most marginalized in Kenya. Hydropower projects in the Lake Turkana watershed have displaced communities and threatened the region’s already limited water supplies. Now, multinational corporations are beginning to pursue oil in this remote region, threatening to displace more communities and pollute water supplies. Communities in Kitui County, Kenya are facing eviction from their lands so companies can extract coal. As demand for resources grows and the price for resources increase, the pressure to extract resources intensifies, and stories like these become more common.
That’s why ELAW is working with partners in these three East African countries to support lawyers working to help communities understand their rights and defend and protect those rights.
Just over a week ago, ELAW and partners at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Kenya, the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Tanzania, and Greenwatch in Uganda hosted a workshop to help lawyers in the region meet the challenge of protecting communities impacted by natural resource extraction. We hoped 20 lawyers would attend the meeting. We were thrilled when 50 lawyers asked to join us: Through this work we are building a global corps of grassroots advocates who will protect communities and the environment for years to come.
ELAW thanks the Ford Foundation for making it possible for us to reconnect with partners in the region and reach out to new lawyers.
Last week Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel and I joined other NGO representatives to talk with World Bank representatives as they consider financing Oyu Tolgoi, a massive copper and gold mine in the South Gobi desert. As has been widely reported, Mongolia has become the new frontier for mining. As ELAW has reported, the government of Mongolia has issued 3,000 mining licenses for copper, coal, gold, silver, and uranium. The International Finance Corporation – the arm of the World Bank that provides financing to private enterprises – is one of several international financial institutions considering financing the development of Oyu Tolgoi.
The project proponent (a Mongolian company, Oyu Tolgoi LLC which is a joint-venture between Turquoise Hill Resources, Rio Tinto, and a Mongolian state-run company) published an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for the project in 2012. ELAW staff scientists and attorneys worked with partners in Mongolia to evaluate the ESIA under IFC standards. We found the ESIA failed to meet IFC standards in several respects. In addition to other comments, we pointed out the following violations of IFC policy:
- The ESIA is incomplete;
- Many critical documents underlying the findings in the ESIA have not been made available to the public; and
- The project proponent inappropriately dismissed the application of the Indigenous Peoples Performance Standard.
We also identified several ways that the project could be improved to reduce its impact on the indigenous herders who live a traditional nomadic lifestyle. The herders’ livelihoods and their land are likely to be destroyed forever if the project is implemented as proposed. The most urgent concern about the project is its devastating impact on water resources in this arid land. Among other concerns, ELAW urged the IFC to ensure that the Undai River is not diverted if the project advances and to require the company to employ dry tailings instead of the planned wet tailings. Tailings are the waste product produced from the ore extraction process and can either be stored in a massive, toxic artificial pond near the mine or dried and back-filled into the areas of the mine where extraction has been completed. Storing the waste as dry tailings could reduce the water needed for processing by 90% and reduce the impact from the mine.
Heidi and I joined Oyu Tolgoi Watch (a Mongolian NGO concerned about the impacts of the project), the Bank Information Center, Sierra Club and the Accountability Counsel to talk with Executive Directors from the World Bank about problems with the project before the Directors decide whether to finance the project. Before these organizations addressed Executive Directors, we were able to hear directly from an indigenous herder whose family has been impacted by the mine. He spoke eloquently about the changes that have already come to the community and the fear that the mine could destroy their traditional lifestyles forever.
Heidi briefed the Directors about concerns related to water resource management. I have focused on demonstrating that the IFC must apply its Indigenous Peoples’ policy to this project.
ELAW will continue working with Mongolian lawyers and organizations representing the communities impacted by mining.
I traveled to Mongolia this fall, to work with Mongolian environmental lawyers and try to catch big fish.
I had a great trip, but it was alarming to witness the mining frenzy that is hitting that country now. The road from the airport into Ulaanbaatar is lined with billboards advertising trucking, hauling, drilling and other mining related services; people are talking eagerly about the Oyu Tolgoi mine, which is forecast to generate 30% of Mongolia’s GNP; and I could see mines from the air as I flew over Mongolia.
We are working with partners in Mongolia to help them prevent mining abuses and gain the capacity to play a strong role in charting a more sustainable future for Mongolia. Attorneys Erdenechimeg Dashdorj and Bazarsad Nanjindorj traveled here to work with us last spring and I worked with them in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Bazarsad plans to come here this winter for an ELAW Fellowship that will enable him to complete intensive English courses at the University of Oregon. They are doing impressive work and want to gain skills and build capacity.
Our law and science teams are working closely with our Mongolian partners. We are reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Oyu Tolgoi mine, helping track down health problems caused by a mining disaster in Khongor, and putting together a case to clean up Ulaanbaatar’s nasty air pollution. The small corps of public interest environmental lawyers in Mongolia is doing great work under challenging conditions, and I am glad we can help.
For more about the fishing in Mongolia, read my recent article in the Eugene Weekly.
The season has just changed in Eugene, Oregon from 80s and sunny to 50s and rainy, and it appeared to happen overnight. Gone are the languid, long summer nights and perfect camping weather. The changes that our partners in Baja California are experiencing have a similar “overnight” quality to them, but the backdrop is much more profound.
Mining companies are bringing more pressure to Baja California, with new mine proposals appearing as the price of gold and other metals rises in global markets. Water quality and water quantity are key concerns with mining in Baja California. Mines invariably cause contamination of nearby water sources; in the desert and dry pine forest habitats that dominate the Baja California Peninsula, these water sources are absolutely critical to the people and other species who live there.
Against this backdrop, my colleague Liz Mitchell and I traveled to La Paz, Mexico to present at a workshop on mining hosted by our partners at the Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste (DAN). Members of ELAW partner organization Centro Mexicano del Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), and other Mexican NGOs Niparajá, Agua Vale Mas Que Oro, Pro Natura, and Medio Ambiente y Sociedad attended the workshop, which provided information about the impacts and implications of mining in the region and provided the opportunity for group members to discuss concerns and raise questions. Mining projects are not new to this region – two years ago many of the same groups joined together to stop an open pit gold mine known as La Concordia, which was backed by U.S.-based Vista Gold. Now Vista Gold is proposing to construct the same mine under a different name – Los Cardones – and other mining plans are increasing in size and number.
The workshop was an enormous success: the participants were knowledgeable and organized, and benefited from the information DAN and ELAW provided. It is such a privilege to work with communities and professionals around the world engaged in the most critical struggles over clean air, water, and soil. Liz and I, and the rest of the ELAW team, look forward to collaborating with DAN and other partners as the pressures to develop, mine, dredge, and deforest continue to increase in the spectacular Baja California Peninsula.
ELAW Staff Scientist
Earlier this year I blogged about the looming prospect of deep seabed mining and the efforts of ELAW’s partners in the Pacific Islands to protect vital ocean resources and coastal communities from the rush to mine the sea floor. Environmental and community rights organizations have come together to inform citizens about the risks of deep seabed mining. Advocates in Papua New Guinea (PNG), including ELAW partner Effrey Dademo, are at the front edge of this campaign because their government issued a license approving the first commercial seabed mining project in the region – Solwara I.
The organizations brought their message to the Pacific Islands Forum, a meeting of regional political leaders held in late August in the Cook Islands. Act Now!, the Pacific Network on Globalisation, and the Pacific Conference of Churches presented leaders with a petition signed by more than 8,000 people supporting a moratorium on seabed mining. The petition was backed by a legal opinion urging leaders to employ a precautionary approach and defer decisions on seabed mining until the environmental impacts of this new technology are more clearly understood.
It seems the message is being heard.
Today, The National is reporting that PNG’s Minister for Environment and Conservation, John Pundari, is calling for public forums to discuss and debate the future of the Solwara I project. Minister Pundari stated:
“I want these experts in oceanography, sedimentology, volcanologists, fisheries and marine ecology – including organisations such as universities, national research institutions, international and national NGOs, and other experts and leaders – to come together, present their cases, and debate the facts on aspects of the Solwara I project so we can all determine whether the government’s decision to approve the project was a good or bad decision.”
This is a remarkable turn of events because the PNG government, until now, has steadfastly refused to even acknowledge public opposition to seabed mining off the country’s coast. Now there will be an opportunity for members of coastal communities and other ocean-dependent peoples to explain their views on seabed mining. We look forward to these public forums!
ELAW Staff Attorney