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Conservation Groups Defend California's Right to Regulate Gold Mining, Protect Culture and Environment

Canadian mining firm challenges U.S. in NAFTA trade panel
October 16, 2006
Oakland, CA —

Today, Sierra Club and Earthworks, represented by Earthjustice and the Western Mining Action Project, filed a submission opposing the Canadian gold mining company Glamis Gold's efforts to use an international trade panel to force the United States to pay $50 million for mining restrictions that protect the environment and Native American cultural resources.


"This is about a foreign-owned company using a NAFTA trade panel to bully the state of California and the United States into letting them destroy public lands," said Margrete Strand Rangnes, with Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program. "This case should be a wake-up call to the Bush administration as it negotiates new trade agreements."


The trade panel, created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is considering the case involving a series of open pit gold mines in the California desert roughly 45 miles northeast of El Centro, California. The land is sacred to the Quechan Indians, a Colorado River Indian tribe living near the California-Arizona border. The Canadian mining company filed a proposed plan of operations with the federal Bureau of Land Management to mine 1,600 acres in 1994.


"The Glamis project calls for mining and leaching 300 million tons of waste rock and 150 million tons of ore to produce a small amount of gold," said Larry Klaasen of the San Diego Sierra Club chapter. "This would be devastating to the surrounding desert ecosystem."


"International trade agreements like NAFTA, and the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement Congress is set to consider, share a fundamental problem," said Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner. "They allow private companies to challenge environmental and other protections enacted by both our state and federal governments. International trade agreements should respect the environmental laws of the countries involved."


Western Mining Action Project attorney Roger Flynn said, "The Canadian gold mining company couldn't win in US court, so now it's resorting to NAFTA."


BACKGROUND


In 2001, Clinton Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt refused to approve Glamis's mining plan because it would have destroyed the sacred tribal lands. California later passed a law requiring open pit mines to be refilled after mining was completed, a process the company argues is too expensive to make the mine profitable. The Bush administration reversed the Babbitt decision, but still hasn't issued the necessary permits. The California reclamation law is still on the books. However, the company claims the California law and the Babbitt denial violate NAFTA, which provides special protection for the profits of foreign companies.


Read the submission (PDF)


This case was featured in the 2005 Earthjustice Human Rights and the Environment report.

Contacts

Martin Wagner, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700
Margrete Strand Rangnes, Sierra Club, (202) 675-7907
Larry Klaasen, Sierra Club San Diego Chapter, (619) 582-7407
Steve D'Esposito, Earthworks, (202) 887-1872
Roger Flynn, Western Mining Action Project, (303) 823-5378

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.