Oct 4, 2011

Abandoned Mines Do Not Leave Abandoned Fears

It should come as no surprise that the earth upon which we walk contains valuable resources of all varieties.  We have the common mining pursuits of coal and oil.  But there are also the less obvious mining pursuits of uranium, lithium and other rare metals.  The value that sits under our feet is so immense, expensive and risky to reach that only a handful of big business miners have the resources of man and machine to haul it out of the ground.

It is clear that these natural resources serve very little purpose to society if they are locked up under the bedrock.  They need to be put to better use.  They can fuel our cars and our trucks.  They can be incorporated into weapons used to defend our interests abroad.  And they can be used domestically by factories of all shapes and sizes to generate power so that millions of other products can be manufactured for our consumption.

But when the spoils of a mine become exhausted, the repeated story of the big mining giants is to pack up shop and leave their mess behind.  A recently filed class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Reno highlights this issue.  Filed on behalf of 100 residents of Yerington, Nevada, it seeks a minimum of $5 million for damages to the town’s water supply caused by an old, abandoned copper mine.  Once run by British Petroleum and Atlantic Richfield Co., this mine now sits unmanned, allegedly leaking uranium, arsenic and other metals into an area of groundwater covering 6-square miles.  This suit also alleges that whistleblowers had been trying for 10 years to publicize these dangers.  But even that didn’t spring these two corporate giants into action.  

It is outrageous that these corporations are able to walk away from the degradation and environmental damage they have inflicted upon our water supply.  Just because they have the resources to seize and capitalize on lucrative mining opportunities, does not mean that they can leave without cleaning up their mess.  The law treats corporations as people for certain purposes.  But it also seems to treat them apart from people when it comes to the simple proposition that a person should clean up his own mess.  This is a basic tenant that every person learns somewhere between kindergarten and first grade.  Perhaps British Petroleum and Atlantic Richfield need a refresher course.

This legal action, hopefully, will push them to clean up their mess.  One would also hope that this lawsuit can bring a much bigger pay day to the unfortunate residents of Yerington who don’t know when, or even if, there groundwater will ever be safe for consumption again.

Contact me for further questions!
Simon W. Johnson
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From Toxic Nevada mine lawsuit seeks $5M from BP, ARCO, The Washington Post (February 15, 2011)

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