Greening of the Green Movement
foundations have developed into big money ventures – ever wonder
who’s controlling the funds?
statement for a company doing business in the mining industry (Note: or
any other resource providing industry, for that matter!) is complete
without careful attention paid to environmental concerns. Today it’s
an established fact of life that extracting Earth’s natural resources
goes hand-in-hand with reclaiming the land after use and, in some cases,
leaving it in a more pristine condition than it was before.
relationship between the mining industry and the burgeoning
environmental movement may not have started out as a match made in
heaven, but it can evolve toward a working partnership where both
parties are committed to reducing environmental impact during the
controlled process of extracting the minerals that are the building
blocks of daily life around the world.
Or so it
are several "green-based" organizations that say they
understand the value of mining and the need to work together, there are
many more groups out there that, as Steve Borell, executive director of
the Alaska Mining Association, puts it, pretty much feel that,
"I’ve never met a mine I liked."
The New Look
eyes and picture in your mind an environmental activist. What do you
see? A bearded fellow in a plaid shirt and blue jeans? A long-haired
woman in a tie-dyed T-shirt and Birkenstock sandals?
environmental activists are more likely to come in tailor-made suits,
have expensive haircuts and own rolodexes that read like a "Who’s
Who in Power." Instead of being outdoors hugging trees, these
careerists are in the offices of federal and state lawmakers and
corporate America, pressing the flesh of the decision makers who
determine the regulations the mining industry must meet.
smart. They’re focused. They’re in the loop. Heck, they’re part of
the establishment. And they’ve enlisted the aid of celebrities from
just about every industry – film, music, television, public affairs.
They even have the vice president of the United States speaking out
about global warming and the critical need to protect Mother Earth.
It’s oh so
How did all
of this happen? "Environmental groups have always had grassroots
support," says Borell, "but over the last five to 10 years in
Alaska we’ve seen the real support coming from the big grant givers
– foundations." According to Borell, these grant givers are
"pinstripe suits in the largest cities in this country influencing
environmental policy on a state and local level."
are big business. During the last 15 years the number of foundations has
nearly doubled from 22,000 to 39,000, and their assets are nearly $225
billion. Since foundations are required to give away about five percent
of their invested assets annually in order to keep their tax-exempt
status, they’re eager to pump money into carefully chosen, and
politically motivated, causes.
are the activist environmental groups, most of which are firmly
entrenched in the Washington, D.C., establishment. With their own
scientists, lobbyists, lawyers and public affairs specialists, they can
work around-the-clock to further environmental agendas in every state .
. . Especially when they’re bankrolled by both private and
State University (OSU), for example, a new program will help "some
of the nation’s leading environmental scientists" become
"professional communicators." The program is being funded by
$1.5 million from the Ecological Society of America, according to an OSU
press release, in order to "improve the flow of accurate, credible
scientific information to policy makers and the general public on
critical issues of the environment."
says Borell, is that chasing after grants gives the grant giver a lot of
influence over shaping issues and determining public policy, in effect
determining the environmental agenda. "Can anyone be surprised that
environmental groups develop Alaska programs and set up Alaska
operations, when they know that foundations are pumping millions into
wilderness initiatives and efforts to prohibit logging oil, and
mining?" he asks.
Worse yet, he
adds, is the negative impact these foundation decision makers have on
local economies thousands of miles away, when the jobs dry up after a
mine development project is blocked.
to be the perfect setting for the standoff between miners and enviros.
With its breathtaking panorama of unspoiled wilderness, mountain ranges
and ice-cold rivers running with salmon, the Land of the Midnight Sun
conjures up a romantic picture of America – beautiful, rugged,
people don’t know, says Borell, is that half of the state’s 365
million acres already is off limits to the mining industry. "About
165 million acres are in some form of congressionally-designated
set-aside," he says. "The greenies don’t waste your time
telling you that fact," he adds sarcastically, "they’re too
busy warning people that we’re getting ready to crush the last rock
and drill the last hole."
years the state has seen three new environmental coalitions set up by
the Environmental Grantgivers Association (see sidebar) to end logging
in the Tongass National Forest. At a major mine this year an attorney
from the National Wildlife Fund met with the mine’s environmental
manager to see for himself the mine’s environmental safeguards and
reclamation plans. "The lawyer said they had done a great job, but
when the manager said, ‘So we’re okay then,’ he replied, ‘Oh no,
we’re going to sue you. We don’t want any mining in Alaska.’"
that foundations also have granted thousands of dollars for Alaska’s
green organizations to set up computer networks for more effective and
immediate communication. "They’re so far ahead of us it’s not
funny," he claims.
not just in Alaska, he adds. "It’s happening to everyone,
everywhere, and they don’t know it."
They do know
it in Big Sky Country. It already was difficult to raise venture capital
for mining projects because of the perceived liability of environmental
risks and the length of time it took to permit. But it got worse when
initiative I-125 was passed in 1996 – thanks to the Montana
Environmental Center – precluding any for-profit corporation in the
state from making contributions to support or protest ballot
initiatives. "Basically, the initiative prevents an industry – it
could be mining or dry cleaning – from spending a dime to defend
itself," says Eric Williams of Environomics, a public relations and
governmental affairs firm with offices in Montana and Washington State.
But there are
loopholes for the nonprofits if you meet three criteria, says Williams:
"Number one, you can’t engage in business activities. Number two,
you don’t have any for-profit members. And number three, you don’t
accept more than five percent annually of your total revenue from
Now a new
initiative on the ballot, I-137, threatens to ban the use of sodium
cyanide to extract gold and silver from mineral ores. If passed, mining
would pretty much grind to a halt in Montana. Exploration for new
minerals, requests for expansion permits and investment in new mines
would stop. Companies that use cyanide in their floatation processes –
for example, copper, zinc, and molybdenum – also would be impacted.
executive director of the Montana Mining Association, is angry about
both initiatives. "I’ve done business throughout the country, and
it’s absurd that you could put millions and millions of dollars into
this state and not be able to protect your investment," she says.
Andrews and others in the industry have gone to the state supreme court
to try to block I-137, but the outcome is uncertain.
remains: Although mining uses less than 0.01 percent of the land in
Montana, it provides jobs for thousands of the state’s citizens and
spends millions each year in tax revenues for schools, roads and county
services. Andrews wants to know who will be able to afford to live there
once "the enviros drive mining out of the state."
media mogul Ted Turner, who owns somewhere in the neighborhood of a
million acres of Montana land.
Do Something Now
happening in Alaska and Montana is a taste of worse things to come,
predicts Borell, Williams and Andrews. "It’s not just a matter of
mining companies needing to wake up and smell the coffee," says
Andrews, "If they don’t do something soon they’ll find
themselves out of business."
adds, "If you think you can run to a far corner of the Earth and be
left alone, forget it." He cites this example. "If you look at
the Kumtor Gold Project in Kyrgyzstan, and I-137 in Montana," he
says, "not only will 95 percent of the information come from
environmental groups, but the sound bites and rhetoric are the same,
even though these two places are on opposite sides of the Earth."
example is what just happened in New Zealand. "There’s a big
mining project there that uses sulfite," says Williams, "and
environmental groups walked into the regulatory offices and plopped down
the Wisconsin Sulfite Mining Bill, which resulted in large segments of
mines in that state being shut down.
what action do you think the regulatory bureaucrats are going to
take?" he asks.
There are steps
companies can take to protect against being bulldozed by a radical green
Research the grant givers who are bankrolling environmental
groups in your community. Find out who they are and where they spend
their money (see sidebar). "Don’t sit at the table with someone
you don’t know," advises Williams.
Step up efforts to educate the public about the funding that is
coming into your state. Find ways to let them know that this funding is
coming from special interest groups with a radical agenda and that its
sole purpose is to block development, which translates into loss of jobs
in your community. For example, in Alaska a state legislator has
proposed that any foundation money coming into the state be made public
knowledge. "That’s a good start," says Borell.
Build alliances with other natural resource providers. This will
foster a strong base of support with those who have an affiliation with
the mining industry, claims Williams.
Be creative and innovative in your approach to environmental
groups by refusing to engage in "stop doing that" tactics.
"It doesn’t do any good to tell foundations to stop giving away
their money, any more than for them to tell us to stop mining,"
says Williams. "They’re what we call a "conflict"
industry," he adds. "They may be nonprofit, but their bottom
line is to make money, and they do that on conflicts."
Williams suggests that the mining industry find constructive ways to
bring about environmental improvement and protection on "real-life,
on-the-ground projects that that foundation money could be used
Get the word out, at least locally, about the many positive
contributions natural resource extractive industries have made in this
country. Granted, this kind of public relations campaign on a grand
scale has had limited results in the past ("It didn’t matter. No
one cared," says Andrews.). But remaining silent, while the other
side trumpets its cause, invites suspicion and misinterpretation. Talk
about your goals as a partner in the community, share your achievements
as a major employer and taxpayer, and explain your reclamation and
wildlife habitat programs until you’re blue in the face.
you can dispel the stereotype of the Big, Bad Mining Company (or,
rancher, logger, farmer, recreationist, etc.).
Dasch is a writer based in
book, Find Your Calling, Love
Your Life, can be found on www.amazon.com.