Evidently, to the environmental movement, transparency does not work both ways.
Case in point: at a “Uranium Confab” held in Moab UT a couple weeks back, speakers from various and sundry environmental groups provided the rustic looking crowd of about 30 with their take on how mining, uranium mining in particular, effects water, air, local communities, native culture and the like, and calls for reform, many centering on aggressive government action and increased transparency and public (meaning environmentalist) involvement in the permitting process, on the first day of their 2-day event.
I’m not sure what was discussed the second day, as this roving journalist was asked quite pointedly not to come back to the meeting, held in a public room at the Moab Arts Center, on the second day.
Now, for the record, it was not because I was creating a disturbance; I did not leap up on a chair screaming “LIES, DAMN LIES!!” even when such behavior would be clearly warranted – I even suppressed snickers and politely refrained from rolling my eyes at the most egregious of statements. So for what offense was I cast out of this sanctum of environmental and community justice?
Why, I was not one of them, of course. The Sanctum of Environmental Justice is apparently a very exclusive club. Sort of like Skull and Bones, conspicuously absent the dress code, one supposes.
I was not only barred from the second day, however; earlier during the first day, there was a session entitled “The Colorado Model: Legal and Regulatory Strategies” put on by Travis Stills, managing Attorney for the Durango, CO Based firm Energy and Conservation Law, and Jeff Parsons, a lawyer for the Western Mining Action Project, and the lead attorney retained by Telluride’s Sheep Mountain Alliance in their quest to deny the residents of Western Montrose County a uranium mill. As I prepared a fresh page for notes and eagerly settled in to hear what these two had to impart, I was approached by Jennifer Thurston from the Information Network For Responsible Mining (INFORM), the emcee and chief organizer of the event, who asked who I was (I told her), and informed me that this particular session, and the strategy session at the end of the day, were not open to media, due to the “sensitive information” being disseminated.
For anyone who has watched these groups operate over the past several years, it is not too difficult to figure out what Sensitive Information might have been disseminated to this crowd of folks who harbored a hatred for mining, combs, and shaving cream. The Colorado Model is quite simple, really – find a proposed mining , or other energy development, project that you do not want to see the light of day (that would be all of them); have attorneys pore over the applicable documents at each stage of the permitting process; find something, anything , to initiate a lawsuit over (legal standing means little since, thanks to the Equal Access to Justice Act, losing the lawsuit bears no financial burden); and once that lawsuit is settled, take your taxpayer-provided legal fees that you collect from the Government and find something else to sue the permit applicant over. Repeat until the energy company you have targeted simply gives up or moves on.
Since no one other than certified and vetted tree huggers were allowed to listen in, one presumes that these folks fear that this legal ruse might not be met with much laud from the masses who just are not sophisticated enough to fully embrace the cause of environmental justice.
At any rate, what I did hear was creepy enough. John Weisheit of the group “Living Rivers”, for instance, after speaking about what a horrible a piece of legislation the 2005 Energy Policy Act was for permitting some production of energy, and how the Colorado River was “already depleted – and now we are polluting what is left”, enlightened the captive crowd with what the real problem was – technological progress (“technology does not solve problems,” he said, “it creates them”; I almost began to feel sorry for him and several audience members, burdened as they were by their problematic cell phones and laptops) – and, chillingly, the suggested solution: “We have to, yes, look at population control.”
Now, I for one tend to get nervous when I hear people with an affection for using the state to achieve their ends talking about “population control”.
The next session was a panel discussion involving several Native American speakers from groups including the Sierra Club, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, and the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) (For the record, “Dine”, besides providing an excuse to use a nice connective consonant in the acronym, means “people” in the Navajo language). During this session I was introduced to the term “environmental racism”, which I gathered to mean that if you support economic development on or near native land, then you clearly hate natives.
Among their other gripes, however, was the hint that not all the tribal members were in lockstep with their acronymned brothers and sisters, as one of the complaints was of divided communities. Apparently some of the Dine have been beguiled by the white oppressor’s jobs, wealth, material improvement and economic opportunity. Perhaps they simply need sister Elizabeth Warren to come out and reacquaint them with the subtleties of their shared culture.
I also learned that one of the strategies these particular groups intend to use to try and halt the uranium industry involves filing a brief with the inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on the grounds that these facilities amount to a violation of the basic human right to drinking water. Getting an international body to intervene is the natural follow up step when domestic processes do not generate the desired outcome. Watch for Occupy Wisconsin to petition the U.N. to send a special envoy to Madison in short order.
Following an actually somewhat interesting presentation on an Assessment of Radionuclides from the existing White Mesa mill (and the entertaining questions which desperately sought to validate preconceived notions of negligence and rampant polluting, disappointingly not really verified in any way by the presentation), came another captivating panel discussion with Robert Tohe from the Sierra Club, Bradley Angel from Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice (where do they come up with these names?) and Jeri Fry from Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc. The session was meant to focus on impacts to local communities at each stage of a uranium mill’s life, but much of the discussion centered on how to handle the inconvenient dilemma of these horrid facilities actually creating jobs and improving the economy.
The answers were… interesting. One panel member suggested that they need to convince the locals that uranium mills are worse than unemployment. Ms Fry, discussing the trouble with navigating the issue that many local residents strongly support the mines and the mill, characterized the problem as being one of “small minded people exhibiting small minded thinking”. There followed statements of how the industry “captures” local communities with such nefarious deeds as funding hospitals and community centres (the bastards).
Their recommended tacks to combat this odious jobs and opportunity message include focusing on vague and unsupported future costs (health concerns, clean up, etc), and to suggest that massive government funded efforts to clean up old mining sites (to be shut down by government funded efforts) will be a prime job creator in the west for years to come. And, of course, their Holy Grail – a renewed push for subsidized wind and solar jobs (no, there was no mention of how solar panels would be constructed without first being able to mine the raw materials. Stop obfuscating the issue, you environmental racist.)
At this point in the proceedings, I was approached by Ms Thurston for a second time, who was “very curious” as to who exactly I was. I reiterated that I was a freelance journalist covering an event that came across my desk, which seemed to have local implications. She appeared rather indignant that I had not registered with her beforehand, as required by the First Amendment (right?) She intimated that this was an invite-only gathering, which I pointed out was odd since it had been advertised on the radio, and that in any case, I had received an email inviting me to it. She muttered something and strode off.
I should point out that Ms Thurston’s less-friendly demeanor occurred shortly after a member of the Grand Junction-based left-enviro organization Western Colorado Congress recognized me. It could be a coincidence.
The final (for me) session was the most interesting; a presentation by Lauren Pagel, the Policy Director for EARTHWORKS, in from Washington D.C. She outlined the legislative goal of these groups – to do away with the 1872 mining law, seen as an obstacle along the approach to their ultimate goal of stopping mining. To that end she mentioned some bills that she thought were just great; Rep. Heinrich’s (D-NM) H.R. 1452 for instance, the Uranium Resources Stewardship Act, which, in a nutshell, would change the mine leasing process in such a way that instead of mining companies deciding where and how to mine, that task would be left with federal land managers (generally the BLM). The only problem with this, that Ms. Pagel saw, was that the BLM does not always hold the environmentalist’s concerns properly front and center, and might therefore sometimes actually approve a mine.
She also mentioned legislation that terrifies the anti-development crowd, specifically Rep. Amodei’s (R-NV) National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, HR 4402. Not only would this bill streamline the permitting process, but would enact some much-needed reforms to the Equal Access to Justice Act, actually making it so that obstructivist groups could not bilk the taxpayers for their legal fees when employing the Colorado Model.
(Now may be a good time to stop what you are doing and write or call your Congressman and Senators, and urge them firmly but politely, to do everything in their earthly power to see that this bill passes. Immediately. This will be here when you get back.)
The bottom line is that the environmental movement, as they openly stated in Moab, does not want mining. Any mining. Or any other fossil fuel. Or nuclear power. Ever. Period. And they are not only willing, but eager to use the state and taxpayer dollars – private wealth, often generated in no small part, directly or indirectly, by the energy development they so vehemently oppose – to shut it all down, regardless of the economic consequences.
It is little wonder that they want to keep that secret.