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Mining Hopes for Independence

An aerial view of the Panguna mine located in the autonomous region of Bougainville on July 20, 2015, in Papua New Guinea.(USGS/NASA LANDSAT/GETTY IMAGES)

A copper quarry helps fuel Bougainville’s hopes for separation from Papua New Guinea, a move that would resonate across the Pacific.

By Geoff Hiscock | U.S. News | July 1, 2019

THE Pacific island of Bougainville is moving a step closer to potential independence from Papua New Guinea as preparations begin for a long-promised referendum later this year.

Whether it can survive as a stand-alone nation is a key question for its 250,000 inhabitants, and for other separatist movements in the Pacific. The future course of the island could ripple across the region, as the question of Bougainville’s independence will touch on a complicated mixture of business concerns, environmental worries and geopolitical interests stretching from Australia and New Zealand to ChinaJapan and the United States.

It’s an outsized international role for Bougainville, which lies 900 kilometers (560 miles) east of the Papua New Guinea mainland. The roots of the referendum stem from a bitter inter-clan and separatist conflict that ran from 1988 to 1997, fighting that claimed between 10,000 and 20,000 lives through a combination of violence, disease, poverty and dislocation.

A truce brokered and maintained by regional neighbors that included Australia, New Zealand and Fiji helped restore order, and a comprehensive peace agreement was signed between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville in 2001. The island has had its own autonomous government since 2005.

Bougainville’s people are expected to vote decisively for independence in the Oct. 17 referendum, according to Jonathan Pryke, Pacific Islands program director at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based policy think tank. The vote is not binding and any move toward independence will require agreement from the central government of Papua New Guinea, commonly referred to as PNG.

Most people hope the two sides can find a “Melanesian solution” that will deliver a workable form of autonomy for Bougainville, says Pryke, using the term that describes the region of the South Pacific that includes PNG, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and other island nations and territories.

James Marape, who took over as Papua New Guinea’s prime minister in late May, said on June 14 he would prefer Bougainville to remain part of a unified nation, but would listen to the people’s voice and then consult over future options.

Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister, James Marape, arrives at the house of Governor-General Bob Dadae to be sworn in as the new leader in Port Moresby on May 30, 2019.(GORETHY KENNETH/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Sydney, says the desire for independence in Bougainville remains strong, but from a regional perspective it will be best if the Bougainville people decided to stay in Papua New Guinea. “We don’t need another microstate emerging in the Pacific.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who visited Bougainville on June 19 with PNG’s new minister for Bougainville Affairs, Sir Puka Temu, said Australia will work to ensure the integrity of the referendum and will not pass judgment on the result. Australia is by far the biggest aid donor in the Pacific region, giving $6.5 billion between 2011 and 2017, according to research last year by the Lowy Institute. Most of Australia’s aid goes to Papua New Guinea.

Scars Remain From a Civil War

The Bougainville conflict, in which rival clans on the island fought among themselves and with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, evolved from multiple issues, including land rights, customary ownership, “outsider” interference and migration, mineral resource exploitation, and perceived inequities and environmental damage associated with the rich Panguna copper mine.

Under the terms of the 2001 peace agreement, a vote on independence within 20 years was promised.

A reconciliation ceremony will be held on July 2 between the central PNG government, the national defence force, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Deep scars remain from the conflict, both physical and emotional. Much of the island’s public infrastructure remains in poor shape, educational opportunities are limited, and corruption is pervasive. Clan rivalry and suspicion persists, particularly in regard to land rights and resource development.

Since Panguna closed in May 1989, Bougainville’s people have led a life built around agriculture and fishing. The cocoa and copra industries ravaged by the war have been re-established, there is small-scale gold mining, and potential for hydroelectric power and a revived forestry industry. For now, a lack of accommodation inhibits tourism.

Copper Mine Underscores Doubts over Bougainville’s Economic Viability

Almost 40 years ago, Bougainville’s Panguna mine was the biggest contributor to Papua New Guinea’s export income and the largest open-cut in the world. But the mine, operated by BCL, a subsidiary of Conzinc Riotinto Australia (now Rio Tinto Ltd.), became a focal point for conflict over pollution, migrant workers, resource ownership and revenue sharing, and has been dormant since 1989.

Apart from any foreign aid it may receive, Bougainville’s future prosperity may well depend on whether it can restart the mine, which contains copper and gold worth an estimated $50 billion. But customary ownership claims – land used for generations by local communities without the need for legal title – remain unresolved and at least three mining groups are in contention, which means an early restart is unlikely. Jennings cautions against investing too much hope in Panguna, with remediation costs after 30 years of disuse likely to be high.

Likewise, Luke Fletcher, executive director of the Sydney-based Jubilee Australia Research Centre, which studies the social and environmental impacts of resources projects on Pacific communities, says reopening Panguna would be a long, expensive and difficult proposition. He says the challenge for any mine operator would be developing a project that is environmentally safe, yet still deliver an acceptable return to shareholders and to the government.

Bougainville’s leader, President John Momis, believes that large-scale mining offers the best chance for income generation and is keen both to revive Panguna and encourage other projects. That would require outside investment, which was a factor contributing to the outbreak of violence in the late 1980s. The local community perceived that it was not getting its fair share of Panguna’s wealth.

Rio Tinto gave up its share in BCL in 2016, and ownership now rests with the government of PNG and the Bougainville government, each with 36.4%. Independent shareholders own the remaining 27.2%.

At least two other groups are vying to operate Panguna. Sir Mel Togolo, the BCL chairman, told the company’s annual general meeting on May 2 that continued uncertainty about Panguna’s tenure remains a big challenge. “We will need to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to achieve our objective of bringing the Panguna mine back into production,” he said.

Regional, International Eyes on October Referendum

With doubts persisting about Bougainville’s economic viability if it cuts ties with the central government, the referendum outcome will be closely watched by other PNG provinces pushing for greater autonomy, such as East New Britain, New Ireland and Enga.

Across the region, some parts of neighboring Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are agitating for their own separate identities. In the nearby French overseas territory of New Caledonia, voters rejected independence from France by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin in November 2018. European settlers were heavily in favor of staying part of France, while indigenous Kanak people overwhelmingly voted for independence.

At the international level, Australia will be keen to ensure that whatever the outcome of the Bougainville referendum, stability is maintained in Papua New Guinea, if only to counter China’s growing interest in offering aid and economic benefits as it builds a Pacific presence.

Along with Japan, New Zealand and the U.S., Australia has committed to a 10-year $1.7 billion electrification project in Papua New Guinea. Australia and the U.S. have agreed to help Papua New Guinea redevelop its Manus Island naval base, which sits 350 kilometers north of the mainland and commands key trade routes into the Pacific.

Jennings says Australia would be likely to give aid to an independent Bougainville to try to keep China at bay. “China is everywhere. Its destructive connections co-opt leaderships in a way that doesn’t work out well for people.”

From a strategic perspective, Jennings says it would be best if Melanesia looked to Australia as its main partner on matters of security.

While China gives most of its aid to PNG and Fiji, the region’s two biggest economies, Jubilee’s Fletcher says China giving aid to an independent Bougainville was “feasible.”

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US and allies to use ‘aid’ to subsidise tax-dodging foreign mining companies

Rather than sustainable solar panels for village communities, the United States and it allies will use promised aid money to subsidise the expansion of foreign owned large-scale mining

Rather than providing sustainable solar power for village communities, the United States, Australia and New Zealand will use their promised electrification program to subsidise the expansion of foreign owned large-scale mining in Papua New Guinea. Mining that is proven does not improve the livelihoods of ordinary people but causes massive social and environmental problems…

U.S, allies propose financing for power plant for Papua New Guinea gold mine

Colin Packham | Reuters | 6 May, 2019

The United States and a group of Pacific allies are proposing to finance a power plant to kick-start the Wafi-Golpu mine in Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s largest untapped gold resources, two sources familiar with the plan said.

The proposal would be the first to be funded by a partnership of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan that pledged to support electricity projects in Papua New Guinea (PNG) during the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit held in November in the capital of Port Moresby.

The countries promised to fund projects to provide electricity for up to 70 percent of the PNG population by 2030, a centerpiece of efforts to undercut Chinese influence in the Pacific.

Officials from the four countries met last month in Port Moresby with the PNG government to discuss the power plant funding for Wafi-Golpu, jointly owned by Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold, the two sources said.

The exact size of the investment has yet to be concluded, but the coalition is seeking to back a power natural gas-fired station that would eventually be owned and operated by the PNG government, the sources said.

“If the mine can get reliable power, it could be a major revenue earner for PNG,” a U.S. source who attended the meeting told Reuters.

He declined to be identified as he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Representatives for Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“We would welcome any proposal that would bring reliable power to the region,” said Christopher Maitland, a spokesman for Newcrest.

Wafi-Golpu is located about 65 km (39 miles) southwest of Lae, the second-largest city in Papua New Guinea, according to the joint venture’s website.

UBS estimates the mine could produce 270,000 ounces of gold and 160,000 tonnes of copper each year from around 2025.

Newcrest and Harmony hope the government will grant a mining license for Wafi-Golpu in July, said Newcrest’s Maitland.

By providing support for the mine and its power supply, the U.S.-led group is hoping to boost its diplomatic standing in the Pacific.

“Infrastructure is the proxy for the greater competition happening between the U.S with its allies and China,” said Nick Bisley, professor of international relations at Melbourne’s La Trobe University. “The U.S. has to deliver on major projects to ensure it doesn’t lose ground on China.”

The United States and its allies worry that China is increasing economic aid to the Pacific region to exert influence over vast swathes of resource-rich ocean and international forums like the United Nations.

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Indigenous people in California petition to stop mining on their land

Juristac (Huris-tak) lies at the heart of the ancestral lands of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band near Gilroy, California. For thousands of years, our Mutsun ancestors lived and held sacred ceremonies at this location in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, above the confluence of the Pajaro and San Benito rivers.

The cultural landscape encompassing Juristac is known today as the Sargent Ranch. An investor group based in San Diego purchased the land at a bankruptcy auction and is currently seeking to develop a 320-acre open pit sand and gravel mining operation on the property.

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band vehemently opposes the proposed mining project. We are asking the public to join us in standing for the protection of our sacred grounds.

No Sargent Quarry

Over a 30-year operational period, the proposed Sargent Quarry would impact 320 acres of land. The plan includes a 14-acre processing plant, three 200-foot deep open pit quarry sites, a 1.6-mile long conveyor belt, and a 30-foot wide access road1. An estimated 40 million tons2 of sand and gravel aggregate would be produced over the life of the mine, primarily for use in local road building and general construction.

For property owner Debt Acquisition Company of America (DACA), the quarry project is an opportunity for financial gain. Doing business under the name Sargent Ranch Management Company, DACA has hired a Palo Alto based firm, Freeman Associates LLC, to shepherd their proposed quarry through Santa Clara County’s planning and environmental review process. A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is currently being prepared by the County.

Cultural and Spiritual Impacts

“The whole area around Juristac is a power place. Long ago, the people all jointly agreed that this was an area that had power. This is where our ancestors held healing ceremonies, this is where our spiritual doctors went, at La Brea, to prepare themselves for the dances.”
—Ed Ketchum, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band

For Mutsun people, Juristac is the home of a powerful spiritual being known as Kuksui. Juristac translates to “place of the Big Head,” and Big Head dances associated with Kuksui and other healing and renewal ceremonies took place in the area for centuries, often attended by neighboring tribal groups. The entire area now known as Sargent Ranch and previously named Rancho Juristac contains a complex of storied cultural sites and features of spiritual significance.

Today’s Amah Mutsun Tribal Band are survivors of the destructive reign of Mission San Juan Bautista and Mission Santa Cruz. Many of our Mutsun ancestors were taken into the missions from villages at Juristac including Xisca, Pitac and La Brea. After the missions were closed in the 1830’s, some Mutsun people returned to their homelands at Juristac, until a smallpox epidemic and pressures from American settlers led to their relocation to surrounding towns and ranchos.

Our tribe, which now owns no land within our traditional territory, draws a clear connection between today’s threats to sacred sites and the legacy of colonial violence our people have endured. “The destruction and domination of Amah Mutsun culture, spirituality, environment and people never ended,” Chairman Val Lopez states. “It just evolved to the destructive and dominating projects that we see today.”

The significance of the Juristac area is only further heightened by its pristine state in relation to the surrounding region. “When you look at our other ceremonial sites and our hunting, fishing and gathering places, the vast majority of these places have been lost to development,” Lopez explains. “Juristac is one of the very last remaining undisturbed areas.”

Our Amah Mutsun tribe maintains that once disturbed by mining, there will be no way to rehabilitate the cultural and spiritual aspects of the landscape. While the land and any cultural resources within the 320-acre footprint of direct impact is in obvious peril, the broader disruption of the spiritual integrity of the land as a result of mining cannot be quantified.

“We honor our ancestors by returning to those places where they had ceremony. For thousands and thousands of years they fulfilled their sacred responsibilities to manage and protect those lands. Through no fault of their own, they were violently interrupted. We cannot let them, or their responsibility be forgotten. We have a duty to continue to fulfill those responsibilities. Without these spiritual sites, we lose our purpose for being here.”
—Chairman Valentin Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band

Ecological Impacts

The proposed quarry and processing plant represents a major intrusion into an otherwise relatively pristine area. Juristac’s grasslands, oak woodland, riparian corridors, freshwater ponds and streams provide important habitat for an abundance of species.

The project would eliminate approximately 248 acres3 of grassland estivation habitat for the California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog, both federally-listed threatened species, while also degrading breeding habitat in ponds adjacent to quarry operations. The loss of grasslands would also impact the American Badger and birds of prey that forage in the area such as the Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier, and Burrowing Owl. In addition, quarrying would destroy approximately 33 acres of California live oak woodland, a valuable roosting and foraging habitat for many native species.

Seeps and springs line both sides of the Sargent Valley and are a vital component of the landscape, providing moisture year-round and recharging off-channel ponds and perennial pools in lower Sargent Creek. The aquifer that feeds these springs is likely to be impacted by quarry excavation pits and by the pumping of an estimated 162,800 gallons per day from an onsite well for aggregate processing and dust control. Pit excavation would also directly eliminate approximately 5600 linear feet of ephemeral stream drainages.

The Sargent Hills have been identified as a critical point of habitat linkage between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo and Gabilan mountain ranges to the south. Sargent Creek provides valuable north-south passage for wildlife, and Juristac is the gateway to key under-crossings for wildlife passage beneath Highway 101. These wildlife corridors would be disrupted by the quarry and it’s processing plant, roads, and associated infrastructure.

In recognition its unique habitat values, the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority identified the Sargent Hills as a Conservation Focus Area in its 2014 Santa Clara Valley Greenprint. Local conservation organizations such as the Peninsula Open Space Trust and The Nature Conservancy also consider the Sargent Hills area as a top priority for protection.

There is only one Juristac

Promoters of the Sargent Quarry point to the growing demand for local sources of aggregate, a necessary material for construction and road building, and herald the relative environmental benefits of quarrying upland locations like Sargent Valley, rather than riparian floodplains. Yet, it is clear that while there are many other potential upland sources of sand and gravel in our region, there is only one Juristac.

For the Amah Mutsun, who have already seen the loss and degradation of nearly all of the lands we once occupied, there is no room for another loss. Our very cultural survival hinges on the preservation of what little remains of our homeland.

We ask that you support our Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s effort to protect and conserve our sacred and cultural site, Juristac. For specific information on how you can help advocate for the preservation of Juristac, please visit our How to Help page.

“Our people have been destroyed and dominated for many generations. Juristac represents an opportunity to recognize the humanity of our ancestors and correct the wrongs that have been committed. It is time we fully acknowledge this difficult history and work together to protect the environment and its resources for generations to come.”
—Valentin Lopez, Chairman, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band

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Environmentalists Tie Trump’s Hands on Deep-Sea Mining

Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

A federal court settlement requires the government to assess the impact of strip-mining the ocean floor before issuing exploration permits to companies.

David Kirby | Take Part | 1 December 2016

Donald Trump is still seven weeks away from taking office, but when it comes to permitting the controversial practice of deep-sea mining, the incoming administration’s hands are already tied.

On Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity announced it has settled a federal court lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Commerce, in a move that will compel federal officials to conduct in-depth assessments of the risks to wildlife and underwater ecosystems before issuing permits for the exploration of the ocean floor for rare-earth metals and minerals.

The settlement’s terms will be binding on the Trump Administration, said Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the environmental group. Trump’s campaign website does not mention deep-sea mining, although it does call for opening offshore leasing and eliminating all “wasteful and unnecessary regulation.”

“He wants to ramp up coal production and is not concerned about the impact of strip mining and mountaintop removal, so it makes me think he wouldn’t be afraid to strip-mine the ocean floor,” Jeffers said of the president elect.

The Trump transition team and NOAA did not respond to requests for comment.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government in 2015 over its extension of two exploratory permits for a Lockheed Martin subsidiary that wants to conduct deep-sea mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, halfway between Mexico and Hawaii.

NOAA extended those permits without conducting the necessary environmental assessments required by federal law, the lawsuit alleged.

Deep-sea mining is still in the development phase worldwide, and no country or company has yet mined the ocean floor for the estimated billions of dollars’ worth of gold, nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, and other rare-earth metals and minerals resting up to a mile under the sea.

Improved extraction technologies and skyrocketing prices for these materials, fueled by the consumer electronics boom, have made seafloor mining increasingly attractive. Mining companies around the world now have exploration licenses on more than 930,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean floor.

But many scientists warn that deep-sea mining, and even exploration for potential sites, can damage marine ecosystems.

“A close analogy to deep sea mining, strip mining on land, has had many ill effects on wildlife and human health,” the lawsuit states. “Similarly, deep seabed mineral mining could disrupt marine communities throughout the ocean.”

“Because of the novelty of deep seabed mining and the potentially severe environmental effects, diligence in analyzing and processing licenses and permits is especially critical,” it continues.

Deep-sea mining scrapes minerals off the seafloor “like a bulldozer, which destroys seabed habitat,” the environmental group’s attorneys wrote. Mining machinery emits noise that can disturb or even harm marine mammals and churns up sediment plumes that smother seafloor organisms and release nutrients that produce toxic algae blooms. Waste released in the process can cloud water and reduce photosynthesis and productivity, and toxic heavy metals in sediment plumes readily enter the food chain.

Light and noise from mining ships, meanwhile, “can disrupt seabird behavior and result in exhaustion or death, and vessel collisions risk harming whales and other marine mammals,” the lawsuit says.

According to the settlement, NOAA agreed to “conduct an environmental analysis…if and when NOAA authorizes Lockheed Martin to conduct at-sea, phase II, exploration activities.”

The company is still in its first phase, which is limited to onshore analyses of seafloor data and global commodity prices.

“We wanted to make sure that any activities at sea required a thorough environmental review, and we weren’t clear that actually was going to happen,” Jeffers said.

Seafloor exploration has many of the same problems as actual mining, she said. “Exploration has a lesser degree of damage that would result from extraction. But they do have to take samples and disrupt the sediment.”

“I think it’s a good first step,” Jeffers said of the settlement. “Deep-sea mining is going to be, in the next 10 to 20 years, a very significant issue with serious environmental ramifications, and I think we need to start thinking now about whether we want to allow this type of activity to happen.”

“At the very least,” she added, “we need to ensure we do adequate environmental review so we know the type of damage that will result from strip-mining the ocean floor.”

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Rio Tinto to destroy indigenous Holy Land in the United States

Selling Off Apache Holy Land

apache

Lydia Millet | New York Times

ABOUT an hour east of Phoenix, near a mining town called Superior, men, women and children of the San Carlos Apache tribe have been camped out at a place called Oak Flat for more than three months, protesting the latest assault on their culture.

Three hundred people, mostly Apache, marched 44 miles from tribal headquarters to begin this occupation on Feb. 9. The campground lies at the core of an ancient Apache holy place, where coming-of-age ceremonies, especially for girls, have been performed for many generations, along with traditional acorn gathering. It belongs to the public, under the multiple-use mandate of the Forest Service, and has had special protections since 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed the area closed to mining — which, like cattle grazing, is otherwise common in national forests — because of its cultural and natural value. President Richard M. Nixon’s Interior Department in 1971 renewed this ban.

Despite these protections, in December 2014, Congress promised to hand the title for Oak Flat over to a private, Australian-British mining concern. A fine-print rider trading away the Indian holy land was added at the last minute to the must-pass military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. By doing this, Congress has handed over a sacred Native American site to a foreign-owned company for what may be the first time in our nation’s history.

The Apache are occupying Oak Flat to protest this action — to them, a sacrilegious and craven sell-off of a place “where Apaches go to pray,” in the words of the San Carlos Apache tribal chairman, Terry Rambler. The site will doubtless be destroyed for any purpose other than mining; Resolution Copper Mining will hollow out a vast chamber that, when it caves in, will leave a two-mile-wide, 1,000-foot-deep pit. The company itself has likened the result of its planned mining at Oak Flat to that of a nearby meteor crater.

The land grab was sneakily anti-democratic even by congressional standards. For more than a decade, the parcel containing Oak Flat has been coveted by Rio Tinto, Resolution’s parent company — which already mines on its own private land in the surrounding area — for the high-value ores beneath it.

The swap — which will trade 5,300 acres of private parcels owned by the company to the Forest Service and give 2,400 acres including Oak Flat to Resolution so that it can mine the land without oversight — had been attempted multiple times by Arizona members of Congress on behalf of the company. (Among those involved was Rick Renzi, a former Republican representative who was sent to federal prison in February for three years for corruption related to earlier versions of the land-transfer deal.) It always failed in Congress because of lack of support. But this time was different. This time, the giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona at the 11th hour. The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny.

It’s worth noting that Rio Tinto affiliates have been McCain campaign contributors, and that Mr. Flake, before he made it to Congress, was a paid lobbyist for Rio Tinto Rössing Uranium (a huge uranium mine in Namibia). Mr. McCain and others assert that the mining project will be a boost to the local economy, though it’s unclear how many of the 1,400 promised jobs would be local; a Superior-area miners’ group, in fact, opposes the swap on the basis that it won’t help the local people or economy. Rio Tinto, incidentally, has been called out in the past for environmental devastation.

“Why is this place sacred?” said Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former chairman of the San Carlos Apache, in a recent interview with Cronkite News. “No difference to Mount Sinai. How the holy spirit came to be.”

If you don’t want to take his word for it, the archaeological record at Oak Flat contains abundant evidence that the Apache have been here “since well before recorded history,” according to congressional testimony by the Society for American Archaeology.

If Oak Flat were a Christian holy site, or for that matter Jewish or Muslim, no senator who wished to remain in office would dare to sneak a backdoor deal for its destruction into a spending bill — no matter what mining-company profits or jobs might result. But this is Indian religion. Clearly the Arizona congressional delegation isn’t afraid of a couple of million conquered natives.

The truth is that for Mr. McCain, Mr. Flake and others who would allow this precious public land to be destroyed, it’s not only the Indians who are invisible. The rest of us are also ghosts, remnants of a quaint idea of democracy.

Oak Flat may still be saved, albeit with difficulty, since the bill’s language stipulates quite simply that 60 days after the federal “environmental impact statement” is complete, the land will belong to Resolution — in other words, that the swap will occur no matter what the environmental study says. But, like all laws and pieces of laws, it can be reversed by new legislative language.

The deal is an impressive new low in congressional corruption, unworthy of our country’s ideals no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. It’s exactly the kind of cynical maneuvering that has taught the electorate to disrespect politicians — a disdain for government that hurts everyone. If ever there was a time for Congress to prove its moral mettle to the public, this is that time. The rider should be repealed.

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Landmark lawsuit challenges U.S. approval of experimental seabed mineral mining

New Ocean Gold Rush Could Hurt Marine Life Before Impacts Are Known

Loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, Wikimedia Commons / Damien du Toit

Loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, Wikimedia Commons / Damien du Toit

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. government today over its first-ever approval for large-scale deep-sea mining, a destructive project between Hawaii and Mexico that would damage important habitat for whales, sharks and sea turtles and wipe out seafloor ecosystems.

“Like mountaintop-removal coal mining, deep-sea mining involves massive cutting machines that will leave behind a barren landscape devoid of life,” said Emily Jeffers, the Center attorney who filed the case in federal district court in Washington DC.

“Deep-sea mining should be stopped, and this lawsuit aims to compel the government to look at the environmental risks before it leaps into this new frontier. We need to protect the ocean wildlife and habitat, and the United States should provide leadership for other nations to follow before more projects get underway.

”The lawsuit targets the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for issuing and renewing exploratory permits for the work before completing environmental impact studies required by federal law. This is the first major legal challenge to an emerging global industry that is seeking to extract gold, nickel, copper and other increasingly valuable metals and minerals from the seabed beneath international waters.

The lawsuit challenges a pair of exploratory permits that were issued to OMCO Seabed Exploration LLC, a subsidiary of defense contractor Lockheed Martin, to pursue mining work in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Mexico. NOAA issued the first licenses in 1980, but they expired in 2004, and this case challenges their renewal in 2012, which was based on a request from the company.

The deep ocean is believed to contain billions of dollars worth of nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, gold and other rare-earth metals and minerals. Extracting those materials has been considered too expensive, difficult and risky for investors, but technological advances and skyrocketing prices for these materials, much of which are used in consumer electronics, have triggered a strong push by the mining industry.

There are now 26 mining permits that have been issued to explore mining, including an active commercial mining operation that has been permitted by Papua New Guinea, the Solwara I project. Most of the permits have been issued through the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone which is rich in valuable polymetallic nodules, but the United States asserts claims in the area independent of the multi-nation ISA.

“The rush to strip-mine the deep-ocean floor threatens to damage mysterious underwater ecosystems. If we aren’t careful, this new gold rush could do irreparable harm to the basic building blocks of life,” said Jeffers.

“The federal government has a moral duty, as well as a legal one, to understand the full environmental impacts before the mining industry scrapes away our deep-sea resources.”

For more information and to download a copy of the lawsuit, please visit the Center’s Deep-sea Mining webpage and list of FAQs

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WEST PAPUA: Mining in an occupation forgotten by the world

west_papua_morning_star

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (Getty/Ulet Ifansasti)

Nithin Coca | Equal Times

It is a region rich in natural resources, the biggest source of tax revenue for the fourth most populous country in the world and, under de-facto military rule, it is a place where activists are jailed, tortured, disappeared and assassinated.

So why doesn’t the world know more about West Papua?

Quite simply, because Indonesia’s restive, easternmost region is home to “one of the least covered armed conflicts in the world,” said Bob Dietz, Asia-Pacific director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the more than 50-year conflict.

There are no official statistics but estimates put the number of Papuans killed by Indonesian authorities at anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people.

Four decades of heavy restrictions on media and human rights groups’ access to West Papua has resulted in a near media blackout.

Linked to all this is a United States-based mining giant, Freeport-McMoRan.

Though its Phoenix, Arizona headquarters is almost 15,000 kilometres away from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, it is the country’s largest taxpayer.

In 2014, Freeport contributed a massive US$1.5 billion to the Indonesian state coffers.

Not surprisingly, a huge percentage of its profits and revenue depends on its Papua operations – and this has wider implications.

“Freeport needs a lot of government security support to operate,” said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“In remote areas like Papua, this means less monitoring and more potential rights abuses taking place in their mining operations.”

In fact, national police and military are in charge of ‘maintaining order’ so that copper and gold can be safely extracted, and tax revenues can flow into Jakarta.

Freeport’s massive Grasberg mine – one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, with a minority stake held by global mining giant Rio Tinto – is essentially closed off to outside access.

“I like to joke that even if Jesus Christ wanted to visit [West] Papua, I don’t think he would get a permit,” said Harsono, noting that official permission requires signatures from 18 separate ministries and security agencies – an impossible task.

“Any bureaucracy that requires so many signatures to get a permit means there must be something terribly wrong in the area they want to enter.”

A history of oppression

West Papua (known by the Jakarta administration simply as Papua) forms the western half of the island of New Guinea (the eastern half being the independent nation of Papua New Guinea) and has long been a crown jewel for aspiring global powers.

It has, at various times, been controlled by Germany, The Netherlands and Australia, before it was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a military-run election in which about 1,000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote for ascension.

West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s ‘New Order’ era under General Suharto.

“Suharto was a brutal dictator who savagely treated Papuans like animals and ordered many bombings and massacres in West Papua,” Benny Wenda, leader of the Free West Papua campaign told Equal Times.

These attacks were aimed chiefly at destroying the region’s independence aspirations and forcing its people to become Indonesians.

Wenda currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, travelling around the world to raise awareness of the brutal atrocities committed by Indonesia against his people.

He witnessed this personally, when, as a child, the Indonesian military bombed his village and killed members of his family.

Natural resources have played a crucial role in the trajectory of Papuan history.

Just four years after its annexation, Freeport arrived, marking the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company, the Indonesian government and few others.

Meanwhile, the people of West Papua have endured great pain and suffering.

There was hope when Suharto’s dictatorship fell in 1998, bringing free elections to the archipelago, and even an independence referendum in East Timor, which was itself invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, and faced similar, bloody oppression.

It turned out to be false hope for West Papua.

“It looked as though an independence referendum was imminent but the new Indonesian government became incredibly scared of losing West Papua,” said Wenda.

“So [Papuan independence leader] Theys Eluay was murdered by the Indonesian authorities, and ever since then, the situation in West Papua has only declined. There have been no real attempts to help with human rights or self-determination from any Indonesian government since.”

What has changed, however, has been an even greater investment in resource development, and the continued inflow of migrants from Java and Sumatra, Indonesia’s two most populous islands, into West Papua to manage resource development.

“Indonesia’s in-country migration is coming close to making Papuans a minority in their traditional homeland,” said Dietz.

Of a population of 3.5 million, only about half are from the hundreds of Melanesian Papuan ethnic groups, with the remainder of the population coming from Javanese, Sundanese, Malay and Madurese migrants, nearly all of whom have arrived since 1969.

Moreover, Indonesia plans to further exploit Papua by expanding palm oil plantations into traditionally-held forested land, and increasing downstream mining revenue by building smelters and other industrial facilities along the coast.

“I’m concerned with how the government uses [all this] tax money,” said Eric Samudra, a Jakarta-based governance researcher. “Is it being used for the good of the people, especially Papuans? The answer, obviously, is no.”

Disengaged public

Despite the news of police killing four protesters in December, many Indonesians remain silent on their government’s occupation of a minority, mostly non-Islamic people who have been waging a low-level insurgency for freedom and justice.

“The problem is most people choose not to do anything about it, while some others believe that nothing can be done,” said Samudra.

However, recent documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing are slowly opening Indonesians eyes to the country’s troubled past, which includes a bloody repression of its nascent Communist Party in the 1960s.

John M. Miller, the National Coordinator of the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, who publishes a monthly update on the situation in West Papua, believes that while public awareness is growing, it still has a long way to go before real change can occur.

“The silence is beginning to be broken, but a broad understanding isn’t there yet.”

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to bring greater development and autonomy to Indonesia’s outer islands, and the December killings brought Papua to the forefront of his administration’s efforts.

But questions remain about whether he will really be able to change the Papua situation.

“We believe President Jokowi would like to make a difference in Papua, and he has already made some moves to do that,” said Harsono, pointing to the president’s pledge to visit Papua frequently and listen to local concerns.

“But moving the security and civilian bureaucracy over [West] Papua is not easy.”

That is one reason why many Papuan activists, including Wenda, are tired of empty words and want a referendum.

“We do not believe that any outcome other than full independence for West Papua can ever be a solution.”

On the ground, government policy seems to be going in the opposite direction.

A case in point: the recently-announced smelter, to be operated by Freeport and an Indonesian partner, will be built on traditional Kamoro lands in the Arafura coast, south of Freeport’s existing mining operations in the region.

The smelter was negotiated directly between the Indonesian government and Freeport, with no say or consultation from the local people.

Not surprisingly, locals groups oppose the smelter, which they fear will further pollute their lands and destroy their traditional way of living. If plans move forward, tensions will likely rise.

Dominikus Mitoro, acting chair of the Kamoro indigenous consultative organisation leadership council, stated publicly that:

“Freeport or any other investor will encounter endless problems,” and that “no business will run smoothly until it leaves [our lands].”

According to activists, now more than ever, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to the planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it.

But that access seems unlikely for now.

“Indonesia’s leaders appear determined not to lose another part of its far-flung archipelago by having troublesome reporters, international or Indonesian, expose what is happening in Papua,” said Dietz.

Freeport McMoRan declined to comment on this story.

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Filed under Financial returns, Human rights, Pacific region, West Papua