KVMR’s Paul Emery Interviews Idaho-Maryland CEO David Watkinson

Paul Emery, on tonight’s KVMR Evening News, interviewed Idaho-Maryland Mine Company President and CEO David Watkinson.

Watkinson indicated that the April 8th deadline set by the city of Grass Valley would be no problem and that he plans to contact the city in January to take the next steps in satisfying their requirements. Presumably this will include funding for the revised draft environmental impact report (DEIR).

Watkinson offered this explanation for the long delay up until now:

“We’ve certainly slowed down work in the last year based primarily on economic conditions. We’ve certainly found it difficult to raise capital in the recession here just like every other company has had, so even though the price of gold has been high, junior mining companies definitely have issues raising capital in a recession like this … ”

Despite Watkinson’s explanation, not all junior mining companies are having trouble raising capital, even in these recessionary times.

When Emery reminded Watkinson of the often-cited criticism that Emgold has never actually produced any gold in its 20 years of operation, Watkinson said “we have people in the company that have mined gold.”

“We’re a little bit different as a junior company because we would be considered an exploration and development company. So we’re looking at actually developing and becoming a mining company, and again there’s only a small percentage of juniors that kind of make that step to become a producing company. It typically takes 20 years for a project that is discovered as a grassroots discovery to get it explored and developed and into construction. And like I say a very very small percentage of projects make it through as a producing mine.”

It’s an odd defense for a company that has never mined gold in 20 years of operation to point out — in effect —  that the historic odds against their success are considerable!

The city should use the occasion of the April deadline to also require a revised economic viability analysis and report.

You can listen to the replay of this evening’s 10-minute interview here:


Plutocracy Reborn

The following graph (from the Nation Institute) shows how periods of low top-marginal tax rates and consequent extremes of income inequality precede economic meltdowns.

What’s the connection?

Answer: with wealth concentrated in the hoarding class, little spending power is left in the middle and lower classes. The engine of economic growth is out of gas.



The Problem With Being in the Middle

These opening paragraphs in economist Robert Kuttner’s latest column illustrate why the correct solution is often not in the middle of the partisan divide, but sometimes to the left of most Democrats:

If anything is more overrated than bipartisanship, it is post-partisanship. The Republicans surely get this. They dig in their heels, don’t budge, and wait for the Democrats either to fail, or to come to them.

But the media are infatuated with the idea that excessive partisanship is a symmetrical problem. If only the Republicans and the Democrats would meet each other halfway, the nation’s ills would be solved. It is hard to watch the Sunday talk shows without seeing one interviewer after another demanding, why can’t you people just compromise?

There are two problems with this formulation, one tactical and the other substantive. The tactical problem is that the Republicans and Democrats aren’t playing the same game. So if the Democrats meet the Republicans half way, the Republicans only demand that they do it again. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is identified as media enemy number one because she rejects this nonsense.

The tactical asymmetry connects to the substantive problem — the fact that the solution to what ails the economy is somewhere to the left of most Democrats, not midway between, say, President Obama and Mitch McConnell. The economy will be fixed only with more public investment, more progressive taxation, and more regulation, but partisan compromise dictates less of each.

Clearly there’s nothing uniquely virtuous about the political middle (what Kuttner calls the “bipartisan delusion”), especially at a time in our history when both major parties are too much in the thrall of corporate power and money, when both parties are equally guilty of destroying the regulations put in place during the New Deal to keep the financial sector stable, when both parties are equally guilty of destroying the American middle class by an excessive zeal for globalization and so-called “free trade,” etc.

Kuttner shows clearly the problem of staking out a centrist position between what he calls “Republican faux-populist loonies” and “fat-cat post-partisans.” It reminds him, he says, of the great Yeats line: “”The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

“A real progressive,” Kuttner says, “with courage and convictions, could expose these people as false messiahs.”

Read his full article here.

KVMR: Joe Heckel Explains City’s April 8th Deadline for Idaho-Maryland

Paul Emery, on last night’s KVMR Evening News, interviewed Joe Heckel, Grass Valley’s Community Development Director, about the status of Emgold’s Idaho-Maryland Mine project.

Heckel essentially confirmed Mayor Lisa Swarthout’s statement to David Watkinson, CEO of the Idaho-Maryland Mine Company, in September of 2009, that the city had decided to require a revised DEIR.

In his interview with Emery, Heckel explained why the city has now set a deadline — April 8th, 2011 — for Emgold to submit a revised project description and funding or face the expiration of the current application.

Here’s my transcription of the essential portions of last night’s interview:

JOE HECKEL: “We’ve been waiting since approximately early 2010, when they had stated that they wished to supplement or amend their application with new information … “

“We did not proceed to prepare what is called a final EIR — which would have been a collection of responses to all the comments received — because at that time in early 2010 the applicant was indicating they wanted to submit some changes to their project, mainly in response to the questions or issues that came through all the comments in the draft EIR.”

“So the status of the project right now is the draft EIR is certainly completed and was looked at as moving to a final EIR, but however since the time has passed and it’s fairly certain that the applicant will be advancing changes to their project, those changes are going to have to be re-evaluated again in the light of a supplemental or a new draft EIR.”

Note: Heckel didn’t mention here that the decision to revise the DEIR is driven not by Emgold’s preferences, but  by the copious public comments showing the original DEIR to be wholly inadequate: It dealt poorly or not at all with such issues as air quality, cyanide transport, acid mine drainage and toxics as a security threat, among other issues].

“Not all of the sections of the draft EIR would have to be changed, Paul, certainly there could be some updates, but until we see what those changes are — those modifications — it’s kinda difficult to predict what would be the scope — or the changes — that would be in a draft EIR.”

PAUL EMERY: “So essentially that means it needs to be opened up for public review once again?”

JOE: “Yes, what would occur is — let’s just walk through he steps — is the applicant would be filing those new changes with the city — and those changes could deal with a number of points of their operations — then we would commission a draft EIR to be prepared. We would utilize a lot of the information already collected and compiled in the previous EIR but we would focus a lot of our critique and analysis on the new changes. But we would have a new draft EIR — called a “new” — but an updated draft EIR prepared and released for a public review period in which the public would be provided an opportunity to fully look at the document and walk through what the issues and concerns would be with the project.”

PAUL: “Now Joe your department has put a deadline on when you’d like to have response form the company proposing the project and that’s april 8th. What does that mean?”

JOE: “As I mentioned, the draft EIR concluded its review process in early 2010. We were informed by the applicant that they were looking to amend their application, modify it. So it’s been about a year of time. So, we just are interested to gain some closure on the project, to advance the project to a particular point where a decision could be made. And also there is new changes that occur in state and local regulations. There’s a number of studies that were tied to the project
that just need to be looked at and/or refreshed. So, there is a concern that if the project application sit for a significant amount of time there’s new issues that could come into play that we don’t know about. So we applied a particular date — April 8th — and if they don’t submit their modified application by that date — and also funding to drive the process — we just consider the application to be withdrawn. Now that’s not a statement as to the appropriateness of the project. We’re not — as staff — we’re not making that call. We’re not speculating whether the project is good or bad. We’re just simply saying that the application has been withdrawn. And certainly if they wish — at a later date after April 8th — they could refile their application and re-initiate the process.”

“Our sense of it is that they will be submitting an amended application package by April 8th.”

There have certainly been costs to Grass Valley in waiting for Emgold over the last year. Some level of administrative costs have been ongoing, particularly in the Planning Department. There are probably also what could be called “opportunity costs,” the cost of lost opportunities to pursue other business projects for or near that property.

The city’s decision to impose a deadline on this costly protracted process makes good business sense.

Teach a Man to Reason, and He’ll Think for a Lifetime

Here’s the latest from the Symphony of Science, a series of short videos remixing the words of notable scientists and thinkers to make a strange and beautiful blend of music and ideas and images.

I love this stuff. Click here to see all the Symphony of Science videos.

Fracking Wars: Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling

[Editor’s note: If you want to find the still guttering flame of democracy in America, look in the heartland, in small towns such as Barnstead, New Hampshire and Blaine Township, Pennsylvania, and now in Pittsburgh, where town councils are voting to deny corporations the rights of personhood. This is the frontline in a war between the personhood rights of corporations and the rights of natural-born citizens and their communities.]

Published in Yes! November 16, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

A historic new ordinance bans natural gas drilling while elevating community decision making and the rights of nature over the “rights” associated with corporate personhood.

by Mari Margil, Ben Price

In a historic vote, the City of Pittsburgh today adopted a first-in-the-nation ordinance banning corporations from natural gas drilling in the city.

Faced with the potential for drilling—and the controversial new practice known as “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing—within city limits, the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously said “no.” Fracking means injecting water laced with sand and toxic chemicals underground to create deep ground explosions that release the gas. It’s a technique first tried in Texas, and which is now being used in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale geological formation, a source of natural gas, is buried over a mile down. The Marcellus Shale stretches from New York, through Pennsylvania, into Ohio and West Virginia.

Fracking has been demonstrated to be a threat to surface and groundwater, and has been blamed for fatal explosions, the contamination of drinking water, rivers, and streams. Because it disturbs rock that’s laced not only with methane, but with carcinogens like benzene and radioactive ores like uranium, forcing the mix to the surface adds to the dangers.

Pittsburgh sits atop the Marcellus Shale and corporations have already purchased leases to drill there, including under area parks and cemeteries.

The ordinance sponsor, Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields, led the charge to ban drilling, and was later joined by five co-sponsors. During the months leading up to today’s vote, Shields passionately advocated for the ordinance, saying that the city is “not a colony of the state and will not sit quietly by as our city gets drilled.” He sees this fight as about far more than drilling, saying “It’s about our authority as a community to decide, not corporations deciding for us.”

Drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), Pittsburgh’s ordinance elevates the rights of people, the community, and nature over corporate “rights” and challenges the authority of the state to pre-empt community decision-making.

As natural gas drilling expands across Pennsylvania, there’s been a debate among opponents offracking over the best course to take. Some are arguing for “responsible drilling” and severance taxes; others want to “zone out” drilling from residential areas or around schools.

Advocates and communities are finding, however, that calling on corporations to be more accountable, without changing the powers and authorities corporations have been given by state and federal government, means asking them to take voluntary steps. Even communities that adopt zoning restrictions requiring drilling pads to be located away from homes or schools find that because the drilling is horizontal, its impact still reaches into those places they are trying to protect.

Meanwhile, hopes that the state—either the legislature or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection—will help, have been similarly dashed. The state was recently found to be paying thousands of dollars to a private contractor to investigate citizens advocating against drilling. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of industry dollars went to candidates in the recent elections. Those monies helped elect candidates who will ensure that drilling proceeds without interference from citizens across the region. Further, the state continues to issue permits to corporations to drill despite growing community opposition.

Corporations, empowered with constitutional privileges conferred upon them by the courts, have long worked hand-in-hand with elected officials and government agencies at the state and federal level to pave the way for drilling. They’ve been successful in exempting natural gas drilling andfracking from federal regulations and they’ve put in place state laws pre-empting municipalities from taking any steps to reign in the industry.

Communities like Pittsburgh are coming to the conclusion that it’s up to them to stop practices they disagree with. Their efforts are not just about stopping the drilling, but about who gets to make decisions for the community—corporations empowered by the state, or people and their communities.

As Councilman Shields stated after the vote, “This ordinance recognizes and secures expanded civil rights for the people of Pittsburgh, and it prohibits activities which would violate those rights. It protects the authority of the people of Pittsburgh to pass this ordinance by undoing corporate privileges that place the rights of the people of Pittsburgh at the mercy of gas corporations.”

Provisions in the ordinance eliminate corporate “personhood” rights within the city for corporations seeking to drill, and remove the ability of corporations to wield the Commerce and Contracts Clauses of the U.S. Constitution to override community decision-making.

In addition, with adoption of the ordinance, Pittsburgh became the first city in the U.S. to recognize legally binding rights of nature.

By recognizing the rights of nature, Pittsburgh is effectively protecting ecosystems and natural communities within the city from efforts by corporations to drill there—and by other levels of government to authorize that drilling. Residents of Pittsburgh are empowered by the ordinance to enforce those rights on behalf of threatened ecosystems.

The ordinance now goes to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for signature. Representatives of drilling companies have indicated they may challenge the ban in court.

The Pittsburgh City Council is now reaching out to other communities facing drilling, encouraging them to take similar steps including adoption of local laws that challenge state and corporate disregard for the consent of the governed, and join in the fight for community rights.


Mari Margil and Ben Price wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Mari is the associate director and Ben is projects director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit, public interest law firm providing legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, agriculture, economy, and quality of life.


  • Video: Drafting Nature’s Constitution: Simply regulating pollution will never really stop it. Mari Margil of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund discusses why we need a fundamental change in the way we use law to protect nature.
  • After the Campaign Cash, the Backlash: The 2010 midterm elections—the first since Citizens United opened the floodgates to corporate campaign cash—were the most expensive in history. So what happens next?
  • Citizens Take Power: Communities across the country are declaring citizens’ right and duty to protect their water, land, local economy, and way of life, even if it means taking on the enormous power of corporations. Here are some of the peaceful revolutionaries who have stepped up.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License

The Resilience of Seeds: A Beautiful, Hopeful Story of the Iraq Marshes

Americans are so used to looking at everything beyond our shores through the prism of politics and conflict that it’s shocking to encounter a beautiful story of hope and resilience in Iraq.

This is one of those stories — like Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea — that has a dedicated, obsessed man at its core, in this case an Iraqi-American named Azzam Alwash, who — as a child — spent wonderful lazy days with his father wandering the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq, an area some identify as the true location of the legendary Garden of Eden.

In the 1990s Saddam Hussein — in a depressingly successful effort to drive out the “Marsh Arabs” — launched a massive engineering project to drain the marshes, turning the vast region into a lifeless moonscape.

After the American invasion of 2003, Alwash returned to Iraq to visit this place that he had so loved as a child. He described the experience of returning in these words:

“The first time I saw the marshes, the dried central marshes, it was literally a physical blow. It was painful. Seeing a place that you grew up in, that you have kept in your memory — green, full of life, full of birds — and it’s a desert. It’s dead.”

Azzam Alwash Returns to the Then-Dead Marshland

This documentary, Braving Iraq: Remembering the Marshes, is part of the PBS Nature series. It’s a beautiful, brave story. The film-makers risk the commonplace dangers of war, such as IEDs and insurgent attacks, in order to chronicle the campaign of this special Iraqi man driven by love for a place.

There’s a moment in this film when you see the water returning to the dried marshland, and a sudden profusion of green reeds. It’s clear that the dormant seeds survived a decade or more in this parched moonscape.

I was surprised at being so moved by the resilience of seeds.

And the birds. The birds are coming back. Slender-billed gulls, marbled teal, and Basra reed warblers. The marbled teal, thought to be near extinction, are returning in unbelievable numbers. We see the crew traveling into the recovering marsh, hoping to spot the teal rumored to be in the area. Suddenly some 40,000 teal rise up above the horizon and fly over in a massive cloud … and we hear the giggles and laughter of the men below, who are overtaken by joy.

All this from the rich waters of the Euphrates, and from the determination of a man who loves this place.

Watch the short trailer following, or (below the trailer) an excerpt from the first of four chapters of the complete program.

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

Tax Cut for Rich Equals Entire Social Security Shortfall Over Next 75 Years

Contrary to what the deficit hawks tell you, Social Security is not in trouble, and it does not contribute significantly to the deficit.

There are several simple ways the small Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years could be remedied. One would be to let the tax cut for the rich expire. The savings from the cancellation of that tax cut would about equal the Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years.

The cap on Social Security contributions could be lifted.

Here are some facts from ourfiscalsecurity.org:

Social Security is currently in surplus and will take in more than it pays out until at least 2037, more than a quarter century from now.

Raising the employer and employee payroll tax rates by just 1.1 percent each would erase the entire 75-year projected shortfall.

Inequality leads to the projected Social Security shortfall: as income growth has become concentrated at the top, more income has fallen above the payroll cap of $106,800. Congress could close the entire 75 year projected funding gap by raising or eliminating the cap on taxable payroll income.

Not just an I.O.U.: Income to the Social Security trust funds must be invested in guaranteed Treasury securities, which can be redeemed at any time at face value, giving the trust funds the same flexibility as cash.

Social Security can never add to the yearly deficit; by law it cannot draw a single dollar from general revenues, even if payroll taxes fall short of scheduled benefits.

Not just for the Elderly: Social Security also protects you if you become disabled—a 20 year-old worker has a 30% chance of dying or becoming disabled before they reach retirement age.

Social Security provides more benefits to children than any other program (more than TANF or SSI programs).

It’s clear that the deficit hawks promote the myth that Social Security is in trouble in order to justify an assault on the program, including the scheme to privatize it. That massive pool of money is very enticing to the financial class (the same folks who brought us the Great Recession). The attack is also part of the general effort by conservatives to roll back all elements of the New Deal.

Kevin Drum, writing recently in Mother Jones, published a CBO graph that clearly shows that the primary out-of-control factor affecting our fiscal condition is health care. Take a look:

Drum explains:

Discretionary spending (the light blue bottom chunk) isn’t a long-term deficit problem. It takes up about 10% of GDP forever. What’s more, pretending that it can be capped is just game playing: anything one Congress can do, another can undo. So if you want to recommend a few discretionary cuts, that’s fine. Beyond that, though, the discretionary budget should be left to Congress since it can be cut or expanded easily via the ordinary political process. That’s why it’s called “discretionary.”

Social Security (the dark blue middle chunk) isn’t a long-term deficit problem. It goes up very slightly between now and 2030 and then flattens out forever. If Republicans were willing to get serious and knock off their puerile anti-tax jihad, it could be fixed easily with a combination of tiny tax increases and tiny benefit cuts phased in over 20 years that the public would barely notice. It deserves about a week of deliberation.

Medicare, and healthcare in general, is a huge problem. It is, in fact, our only real long-term spending problem.

Acid Mine Drainage, A Problem Not Addressed in the IMM DEIR

Originally published in the Mail & Guardian, Nov 12, 2010, as “Rising water, rising fear: SA’s mining legacy.”

Reprinted with permission of the author


Environmental activist Mariette Liefferink’s four-inch crimson heels still sport their Woolworths sticker as they puncture the sulphuric crust lining Robinson Lake, situated in the Western Basin of the Witwatersrand.

The water is quiet, smells slightly of vinegar and laps gently against a shore devoid of any life save for a few, lone reeds. Behind the lake is a large, naked yellow mountain of mine waste adorned with a few small green nets meant to stop the dust from blowing in an incessant wind.

Liefferink talks sweetly over her asthma. “This lake has a pH of two,” she said. “It’s pure acid, coming from flooding mine operations just up the road. There are no life forms here. It’s completely dead.”

This is acid mine drainage, or AMD, a problem so complex, overwhelming and shrouded in economic, political and scientific machinations that it has become a terrifying yet poorly understood criminal.

South Africans are fearful that Johannesburg may soon be at the mercy of acid water, with whisperings of the CBD crumbling as basements flood and buildings corrode. The government is said to be too slow, gutless and corrupt to enforce necessary action, the mining companies too heartless and unwilling to pay, the community and environmental activists too alarmist and the solutions too expensive or ineffective.

In reality, these statements represent a wide variety of fact and fiction. AMD involves an elusive and complicated mass of overlapping, incorrect or incomplete data, personal politicking marked by oft-interchanging vendettas and alliances and an environment pockmarked with racial prejudices, the unpredictable demands of the international market, foreign exploitation, and a broken political, legal and managerial landscape fuelled by apartheid and encouraged under the democratic government.

This is not just about water. And nothing is as it seems.

What is AMD?
Acid mine drainage is a side effect of mining operations the world over. It occurs through natural runoff after rains flush through a mine dump; from mine companies disposing of the water used in their operations; or from old, disused mine shafts filling up with water, eventually decanting, or flooding, above ground.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency considers AMD to be one of the world’s biggest environmental threats, second only to climate change.

AMD is high in sulphates (salts) and heavy metals and bears a low pH, the marker of acidity.

This toxic mix means that the water cannot be used for human or animal consumption, because exposure to uranium and other heavy metals can result in toxic and radioactive effects such as cancers, mental disorders, birth defects and kidney failure.

AMD also has a negative impact on the environment, severely affecting the ability of plants to grow and animals to thrive.

The Witwatersrand, home to the world’s largest deposit of gold and host to mining operations for more than 120 years, saw its first decant when the Western Basin overflowed with acid water in 2002, with acidic water rushing through a Rand Uranium operation and into Robinson Lake. Because of its high uranium content the lake has been designated a hazardous radiation site by the National Nuclear Regulator.

AMD is soon expected to decant in the province’s Central and Eastern Basins and can be found already in Mpumalanga, North West, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. And it’s not going away anytime soon. Because of the large number of mine dumps and huge, empty and largely uncared for voids, or empty underground basins, experts predict that today’s mine waste could create AMD for hundreds to thousands of years to come.

On top of that, South Africa’s unique geology actually encourages the country’s extensive AMD problem. The Witwatersrand was named for its luscious, flowing white waters. But its underground basins were drained of water through pumping, a process termed “dewatering”, so that gold deposits could be extracted from ever-greater depths. This process resulted in the creation of massive voids.

But as the rand’s deposits became scarcer, companies ceased pumping activities and closed up shop. The now-empty basins began filling with water, collecting along the way salts, iron pyrite – also known as Fool’s Gold, which, when oxidised, becomes acidic — and heavy metals. Now those fountains are producing water again, said Liefferink. But this time it won’t be white, clean water, but AMD that’s coming above ground.

What’s at risk?
With the Western Basin still decanting at a rate of between 15-million and 30-million litres a day and 56-million litres during heavy rains, the Central Basin, on which Johannesburg lies, is predicted to produce 60-million litres a day within a matter of months. This is equivalent to water from 24 Olympic pools hitting the city’s streets daily.

In July the department of water affairs stated that potential decant within the Johannesburg area could take place within 18 months, or by early 2012. The water is now estimated to be 530m below the surface and rising at a rate of between 0.3m and 0.9m a day. This rate could increase with heavy summer rains.

Large buildings in the CBD, such as Standard Bank and Absa, have been listed by activists and scientists as potential targets and Gold Reef City is expected to be one of the first major attractions to end up under water.

Standard Bank and Absa have commissioned studies to look at potential effects but the results have not been publicly released. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) said Gauteng has the potential to create 350-million litres a day of AMD decant by 2014, the equivalent of 140 Olympic swimming pools.

The department of water affairs suggested building a pumping station to keep the decant at bay, but work on this has yet to begin.

In late October farmers warned that the water could affect exports to European markets, with Spar and Pick n Pay expressing concern over the safety of their produce.

The Cradle of Humankind, a world heritage site, is a potential target, with the Western Basin decant making its way through the Krugersdorp Nature Reserve’s hippo pool and into the Cradle area. Garfield Krige, a mine consultant who predicted the 2002 decant, said that “for every megalitre of mine water, about 300 litres of void is created. Sooner or later we’re going to get major collapses in the Cradle.”

On the record for decades
Communities, scientists, mining companies and government have known about the AMD threat for decades.

Before mines were given permission by government to dewater their voids in the 1960s, a 1957 document presented by the Chamber of Mines to the CSIR noted potential problems with what it termed “re-watering”, or decant, after mines closed, with both processes potentially and actually producing sinkholes, increasing seismic activity and causing water and air quality to deteriorate.

As Witwatersrand gold operations began to close en masse in the 1990s, studies were done to ascertain the potential impact of ceased pumping. In 1996 Krige was involved in producing what became known as the Strategic Water Management Plan, or the Swamp report, which predicted within a month of accuracy that AMD would make its way to the Western Basin surface in 2002.

“The [department of water affairs] was completely aware that the voids would start filling up,” said Krige. “The fact that the department [did not] take proper decisions over that period, from 1996 to now … [gave] all the mines time to get rid of their liability … The department should have said 2002 is the deadline. [Instead], in 2002, the water started to decant and it caught everybody off guard, even though everybody knew about the whole thing. It’s now 2010 and nothing has been done.”

Internal government discussions have noted concern over Central Basin decant for years.

A 2009 water affairs department memo considered AMD “the single biggest environmental threat that this Government and country will be faced within the immediate future if the necessary managerial decisions are not taken timeously … The rise in the water table will have catastrophic consequences if not dealt with timeously.”

Who’s responsible?
While AMD has been known about for decades, little money has been made available either by government or industry to remedy decant and mitigate disaster.

Issues surrounding liability are central to who will pay, with many of the major players that operated throughout the Witwatersrand’s 120-year history having packed up and moved on, leaving smaller, less economically successful mines to pump and treat water they did not contaminate.

Nationwide, there are nearly 6 000 ownerless or abandoned mines, according to the department of mineral resources, most of which have not undergone proper remediation.

“Establishing liability is a very complex problem,” said Democratic Alliance MP Gareth Morgan. “The vast majority of mines that are responsible for the decant have ceased to exist or have been abandoned and have not been rehabilitated.”

The 1970 Fanie Botha Accord stated that mines that closed before 1956 are the responsibility of government, with those that closed afterwards to be remediated by the responsible company.

While, in theory, regulatory laws and bodies have been enhanced post-1994, in practice a large brain drain from the public to the private sector enabled by lack of funding and poor management has resulted in these laws rarely being enforced.

Carin Bosman, former director of water resource protection and waste at the water affairs department, said that without adequate funding officials are virtually helpless. “You can issue the directive, but then you don’t have the money to back it up.

The costs often trump what is allowed within the budget.”

Infighting between departments and overlapping laws and bodies make it difficult to know in which cases legislation should be instigated and when one rule takes precedence over another.

Said Paul Marden of trade union Solidarity: “The department of mineral resources is involved, [the department of] water affairs is involved, [the department of] tourism is involved and you often find that people sit and pass the buck to each other. Each department wants to maintain its own independence and then you don’t get anything done.”

The task team
The recently appointed inter-ministerial task team on AMD, announced in September by the former water minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, and consisting in part of experts from the CSIR, the Water Research Council, the Council for Geosciences, the Chamber of Mines, the mineral resources and the water affairs departments, may denote a change in governmental behaviour.

In late October government announced that the water affairs department would report the team’s findings to Cabinet by mid-December. While activists and experts are hopeful, the team’s work has been kept from the public domain.

An October 15 report released by the team was not made public. Instead, a four-paragraph press statement was released. When a tender for pumping and treatment options was announced and then immediately revoked, government would not respond to queries from lawyers, activists or treatment companies about why this happened.

Marius Keet, a member of the team and a water affairs official, said that no comment could be made while the group was still in “sensitive” discussions. The DMR also refused comment, after over a month of repeated requests from the Mail & Guardian.

Liefferink contends that the lack of information stemming from the task team is indicative of a general government trend.

While AMD “is not a unique South African problem, what is unique … is that it is denied, it is suppressed, it minimised … and not addressed,” she said. “We’re living in an autocracy and not a democracy. Government is meant to engage civil society in these discussions and instead we just see … suppression of facts.”
Within the world of AMD, nothing is clear, transparent, or easy to understand. Nothing save for the white sulphuric crust lining Robinson Lake and popping up across South Africa’s mining lands.

This project was made possible by funding from the Open Society Foundation for South Africa’s Media Fellowship Programme.

H2Oil: Video of the Biggest Unsustainable Project on Planet Earth

The Alberta tar sands are now the largest single source of crude oil imports into the United States, ahead of Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (the next biggest sources in that order).

It takes up to four barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil extracted from the tar sands. The water is drawn from the Athabasca River system, with devastating consequences to the peoples who live along and rely on that river.

But the environmental consequences of this project (by itself as large as the entire state of Florida) are not just local. The production of crude oil there accounts for at least 40 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

The Alberta tar sands operation has been called “the single most destructive and unsustainable project on earth.”

The documentary, H2Oil, explores those consequences. (See the trailers below).

Hold in your mind at once both the scale and devastation of the Alberta tar sands project and the scale and destruction of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. You will then understand the most fundamental trend in modern man’s desperate quest for oil to fuel his unsustainable way of life: The era of cheap and easy-to-obtain oil is over. The era of expensive and dangerous oil is well underway.

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