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