Category Archives: Mining

Before the US approves new uranium mining, consider its toxic legacy

File 20180220 116368 asyc7g.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Warning sign at Kerr-McGee uranium mill site near Grants, N.M., December 20, 2007. AP photo/Susan Montoya Bryan

Stephanie Malin, Colorado State University

Uranium – the raw material for nuclear power and nuclear weapons – is having a moment in the spotlight.

Companies such as Energy Fuels, Inc. have played well-publicized roles in lobbying the Trump administration to reduce federal protection for public lands with uranium deposits. The Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review calls for new weapons production to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which could spur new domestic uranium mining. And the Interior Department is advocating more domestic uranium production, along with other materials identified as “critical minerals.”

What would expanded uranium mining in the U.S. mean at the local level? I have studied the legacies of past uranium mining and milling in Western states for over a decade. My book examines dilemmas faced by uranium communities caught between harmful legacies of previous mining booms and the potential promise of new economic development. Continue reading

Share

‘Outrageous’ Gold Rush-Style Grab of Public Lands To Begin in Less Than 48 Hours

Conservationists, local tribe leaders, Democratic legislators, and even a UN expert decry this “serious attack on indigenous peoples’ rights.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-31-2018

Activists and politicians are opposing the Trump administration’s move to allow mining at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. (Photo: ksblack99/Flickr)

Despite protests from conservationists, local tribe leaders, Democratic lawmakers, and even the United Nations’ expert on indigenous rights, at 6am on Friday the Trump administration will allow citizens and companies to start staking claims on sections of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah so the new stakeholders can conduct hard rock mining on the formerly protected lands.

“It is outrageous to witness the dismantling of the Bears Ears national monument, in what constitutes a serious attack on indigenous peoples’ rights in the United States,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Continue reading

Share

Doomsday Clock Now ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ as Trump Drives Up Nuclear and Climate Threats

“It’s always sobering to be reminded just how close humanity is to destroying itself with nuclear weapons.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-25-2018

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced on Thursday it has moved up the Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight. (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists/Facebook)

In response to rising nuclear tensions and concerns about inadequate action to address the climate crisis, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday the hands of the Doomsday Clock have been moved and it is now just two minutes midnight, a signal to the world that international scientists and policy experts are increasingly worried about the likeliness of global catastrophe.

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” said a statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Continue reading

Share

Why the Minnesota Vikings win is disheartening to some Minnesotans

Written by Carol Benedict

In case you have not heard, the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC Divisional Game on Sunday, after a near-defeat in traditional Vikings playoff style. Fans were ecstatic. “WE WON!” was shouted everywhere in Minnesota.

Except a few places. Not many of the homeless people were celebrating the win in a warm cozy home with game food laid out for an afternoon of face-stuffing. Not many of the unvisited residents of the state’s nursing homes thought as much about the game as they did about where their families were. A good portion of the minority communities facing possible deportation thought less of a football game than spending perhaps the last day possible with loved ones they might never see again.

By Monday, people in the state’s employment sector that worked on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, were still talking about the big game. The office coffee pots were constant witness to the sometimes hour-long reflections on “where I was and what I was doing” during the big moment of the final play. The first 5 minutes of local news broadcasts focused on people who had left the stadium or turned off the television before victory was clear. As of Tuesday, the 5 most read stories in the Minneapolis Star Tribune are all centered on the Vikings win last Sunday.

In preparation for the SuperBowl, Minneapolis has agreed to several “policies” that the people of Minneapolis were never given a voice, choice or opinion about. Those with annual permits to park near where they work have had those permits pulled so the space can sell for $100 or more for the SuperBowl events. Homeless people within the “security perimeter” are supposed to be “re-located” to other shelters. Even stray cats and dogs are being sent to other shelters. Local news also reported, “…MACC needs to “keep the shelter as empty as possible because in the event of an emergency, the building could be used for an influx of animals, or even to shelter people.”

“Snipers will be on rooftops and in buildings in strategic places. Officers in head-to-toe commando gear will be on the streets gripping assault rifles against their chests. Minneapolis Police Cmdr. Scott Gerlicher said the influx of federal agents to Minnesota will be the largest in the 52 years of Super Bowl history,” reports the Star Tribune.

All these moves and decisions are being done to protect people going to a sporting event. Remember that sporting events at the professional level are nothing more than a corporation (NFL) selling you their product (football team) as an entertainment vehicle to encourage participation through purchases of tickets, game gear, trinkets and other such memorabilia. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the business model or the consumers of the products.

What would happen if Minnesotans would put the same amount of time, effort, energy and money into causes for the good of Minnesota? What would it look like to have as many people cheer a win for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in it’s fight for life against a foreign corporation intending to build a copper and nickel mining operation in the middle of it? How many fewer attacks would the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center have experienced if the same amount of people came out to support the rejection of hate as came out for a Vikings game? How many people spent more time waiting in traffic and lines on game day than they did being stopped by a Black Lives Matter protest in the past, yet still are unable to recognize the injustices that the black community faces on a daily basis?

There was, and still is, a place in our society to come out and enjoy America’s favorite pastime; sports events. But shouldn’t it be done with more balance to the other things that matter greatest in life? If you are fortunate enough to be able to get to the end of your life to gather those that mean the most to you during your final moments, will you ask for your football team or your family?

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an independent researcher and human rights activist. She is also an independent Journalist and a professional member of the US Press Association.

 

 

Share

The most important person in America is not Trump

Our most admired, most important Person of the Year for 2017 goes to…

Written by Carol Benedict

Screenshot: Euronews

2017 is a year no one will miss much. We struggled through the year with the “deer in the headlights” syndrome across our populace; so much so that “not normal” became expected, and the expected became obscure.

But what did we find when we looked at the year to decide who was the biggest influence on us, who did we turn to for hope and inspiration in our darkest moments? Our collective minds turn to the voice of the resistance – every person, team, organization, group and crowd that forged a line and said “ENOUGH!” in one great shout. Continue reading

Share

Mercury from industrialized nations is polluting the Arctic – here’s how it gets there

File 20171212 9386 1cigua4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. Plants on the Arctic tundra absorb mercury from the air, then transfer it to soil when they die. Paxson Woelber, CC BY

Daniel Obrist, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Scientists have long understood that the Arctic is affected by mercury pollution, but know less about how it happens. Remote, cold and seemingly pristine, why is such an idyllic landscape so contaminated with this highly toxic metal?

I recently returned from a two-year research project in Alaska, where I led field research into this issue alongside fellow scientists from the University of Colorado; the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute; the University of Toulouse and the Sorbonne University in France; and the Gas Technology Institute in Illinois. Continue reading

Share

Trump’s Mine-Safety Nominee Ran Coal Firm Cited for Illegal Employment Practices

Records show the coal mining company formerly run by David Zatezalo retaliated against a foreman who complained of harassment and unsafe conditions.

Written by  Robert Faturechi and published 10-17-2017 in Pro-Publica.

Fox in the Coal Mine: President Trump nominated David Zatezalo, the former chairman of Rhino Resources, to be an assistant secretary of Labor in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Zatezalo’s company was issued two “pattern of violations” letters from MSHA over safety issues at their mines in 2010 and 2011. Photo credit: OSMRE. Published by WhoWhatWhy.org

The coal mining company run by President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s top mining regulator has already come under criticism for weaknesses in its safety record. It turns out the company was also found by the government to have illegally retaliated against a foreman who complained about sexual and ethnic harassment from supervisors, unsafe conditions and drug use at one of its mines.

The little-noticed case involved a foreman at a mine operated by Rhino Energy WV. At the time, the president of the mine’s parent company, Rhino Resource Partners, was David Zatezalo, who is now Trump’s nominee to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination Wednesday.

In the West Virginia case, Michael Jagodzinski, a foreman at the mine located near the town of Bolt, complained in 2011 that he was the target of ethnic and gay slurs. The company illegally retaliated against him, falsely accusing him of sexual harassment, and then fired him, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found. As a result, Rhino Energy WV entered into a five-year consent decree last year, agreeing to pay $62,500 to Jagodzinski and implement reforms, including a policy against harassment and training for all managers and employees on prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation. The company also agreed to report how it handles any internal complaints of discrimination to federal regulators, and post notices about the settlement at all mine sites.

Zatezalo retired from Rhino in 2014. If confirmed to his new post, he would run an agency that is part of the Labor Department. It conducts regular inspections, trains the industry on best practices and levies penalties against mining companies for violations.

Democratic senators have questioned Zatezalo’s record in the industry, citing safety issues at mines he oversaw in West Virginia and Kentucky. One of his mines received two consecutive “pattern of violations” citations from the mining safety agency — a rare sanction used for repeat offenders.

Based on those citations, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who often throws his support behind the mining industry’s priorities, announced he would oppose Zatezalo’s confirmation, saying he is “not convinced” the former coal executive “is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.”

Zatezalo did not respond to a request for an interview about the harassment case. A spokeswoman for the mine safety administration declined to comment about the allegations.

The problems at the Bolt mine were brought to the attention of federal authorities by Jagodzinski. The EEOC ultimately found that the company engaged in “unlawful employment practices” starting in May 2011.

According to the government’s complaint, Jagodzinski faced a hostile work environment based on his Polish ancestry, including a barrage of insults and false allegations of workplace violations. The company allegedly allowed graffiti on the walls of the mine Jagodzinski supervised, with messages such as “Jag the fag.” Both supervisors and rank-and-file mine employees referred to Jagodzinski using that slur and “stupid Polack,” the EEOC said.

“Supervisory personnel failed to take action to stop the harassment or prevent it from recurring,” the government’s complaint reads. “Instead, supervisors participated in the harassment.”

A poster hung in the workplace likening Jagodzinski to a caveman, with the message: “JAG IS A FAG.” At one point, according to federal authorities, another employee took Jagodzinski’s phone and used it to take a photo of his own testicles.

“The harassment was open and obvious to supervisory personnel,” federal authorities found, “and supervisory personnel participated in the harassment.”

In a sworn deposition, Jagodzinski said managers used drugs on the job. In one case, he said managers tipped off the mine’s employees about an imminent drug test.

Jagodzinski said in an interview with ProPublica that the harassment started because he was trying to enforce workplace safety rules. “I was against them breaking rules and doing drugs and stealing,” Jagodzinski said. “Oxy, nerve pills, synthetic weed, smoking underground, snorting pills underground. This place was the absolute worst place I’d worked in my entire life.”

In a sworn deposition, a company executive said Zatezalo approved the termination, but denied that the company harassed Jagodzinski or fired him as retaliation. The company, he said, had strict policies against drug use.

“These people work in a confined space, underground in a confined space where large equipment moves. Any impairment to judgment is a very, very high risk, so we tolerate — we tolerated zero,” the executive said.

Court filings show Zatezalo was also scheduled to be deposed, but it appears the company agreed to settle with the government before he was interviewed under oath.

The consent decree followed other documented problems at Rhino, which at the end of 2011 operated 11 mines in four states, with a total of more than 1,000 workers. One mine, also near Bolt, was hit in 2010 with a “pattern of violations” letter from the mining agency, a sanction that according to the agency’s website is “reserved for mines that pose the greatest risk to the health and safety of miners, particularly those with chronic violation records.”

A few months later, rock from a wall in the same mine pinned and killed a miner. The mine was given a second “pattern of violations” letter, with the safety agency finding that the company had not maintained the safety improvements it made after the first letter.

In another instance, government regulators accused the company of alerting miners underground of an imminent agency inspection, which would have allowed workers to clean up any potential violations.

A review of regulatory filings by The Charleston Gazette-Mail found that during his career Zatezalo was listed as director of mining operations or as mine general manager during accidents that resulted in three mining deaths. He was a top officer at the time of a fourth death.

During a Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, Zatezalo acknowledged that at times his local managers were “not doing what they should have been doing” and that in those cases, he replaced them. He said that if he was confirmed he wouldn’t weaken mine regulation.

“Inspections in the mines in the United States are a necessity,” he said.

Zatezalo began his mining career as a union laborer, before rising in the ranks to hold top positions at American Electric Power Coal and Rhino. He also helped lead coal advocacy associations in Ohio and Kentucky.

Zatezalo was not widely known nationally before he was nominated. In an interview with his hometown newspaper in Wheeling, West Virginia, Zatezalo said that industry contacts had urged him to come out of retirement and put his name in the running for the post. Among his backers, he said, were Robert Murray, the influential chairman of mining giant Murray Energy.

“There aren’t a lot of people in the industry I don’t know, and people said, ‘You’d be great for that position. I’m going to call Sen. (Mitch) McConnell and tell him he needs to support you for this,’” Zatezalo recalled.

Zatezalo later clarified and said he was not sure if Murray had lobbied on his behalf.

Jagodzinski, the mine foreman at the center of the government’s discrimination suit, said he has been stigmatized after being falsely fired for sexual harassment, and has had difficulty finding steady employment since.

“They ruined me, dude. I’ve lost everything,” he said in an interview. “And now I see Zatezalo’s going to run MSHA. I cannot believe it.”

This article is republished under a Creative Commons Share A-like License.

Share

Instead of Protecting the Earth, EPA Agents Now Forced to Serve as Pruitt Bodyguards

Unsurprisingly, the number of environmental crime cases has declined rapidly since Pruitt took charge

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-20-2017

Pruitt’s 24/7, 18-member security detail “demands triple the manpower of his predecessors” and is forcing “officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes,” the Washington Post reported. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

Thanks to a hiring freeze, budget cuts, and the exorbitant travel needs of Trump’s cabinet, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agents are being forced to ditch climate crime investigations in order to serve as personal bodyguards for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, resulting in what one critic called an “evaporation of criminal enforcement.”

The EPA head has traditionally had one of the smallest security details among cabinet members,” the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. But Pruitt’s expansive security team—which cost taxpayers over $830,000 in his first three months as EPA chief—has shattered all precedent. Continue reading

Share

‘Mind-bogglingly Dangerous’: Trump EPA Rolls Back Water Pollution Limits for Coal Plants

“A bold-faced gift to the coal industry at the expense of the health of families everywhere”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-14-2017

The EPA placed a delay on a rule that would have limited wastewater pollution from coal-fired plants. (Photo: pennjohnson/Flickr/cc)

In a move that critics are calling “deeply disturbing,” the Trump administration announced on Wednesday a two-year delay to an Obama-era rule limiting wastewater pollution at coal plants.

In 2015 the Obama administration developed new limits on metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic in coal-fired plants’ wastewater, set to go into effect in 2018. The pollutants in question “can cause severe health problems, including cancer and lowered I.Q. among children, as well as deformities and reproductive harm in fish and wildlife,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which fought against the rollback of the limits. Continue reading

Share

Moms’ Group Sounds Alarm Over Worst GOP Bill “You’ve Never Heard Of”

“From car safety to clean air and water, Congress is threatening these lifesaving standards.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-21-2017

The RAA and REINS Act could impact federal agencies’ ability to impose regulations affecting food safety, among other issues that affect Americans. (Photo: Oregon Department of Agriculture/Flickr/cc)

The environmental group Clean Air Moms Action released a new ad campaign Monday urging voters to fight back against two pending  Republican anti-regulation laws.

The ad is being run in five states where Democratic incumbent senators will be up for re-election in highly-anticipated races in 2018. It features car safety advocate Janette Fennell, who shares a personal story of how an automobile regulation saved her life—the kind of regulation that could be at risk if Congress passes the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) and the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. Continue reading

Share