Sunday, February 7, 2010

Western Shoshone ask court to enforce ruling to halt gold mining on Mount Tenabo

Western Shoshone and allies ask court to enforce ruling to halt gold mining on Mount Tenabo

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Western Shoshone and their allies have asked a federal court to enforce a ruling that would protect sacred Mount Tenabo from the destruction of Barrick Gold's open pit gold mine, which would core out the sacred mountain where ceremonies are conducted.

A motion was filed Friday, February 5, in U.S. District Court in Reno for enforcement of an injunctive order recently issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is part of the 14-month long lawsuit brought against the BLM and Barrick Gold of Canada to stop expanded gold mining on Mount Tenabo.

The lawsuit was filed by the South Fork Band Council of Western Shoshone, the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, the Timbisha Tribe of Western Shoshone, the Western Shoshone Defense Project, and Great Basin Resource Watch. BLM approved Barrick’s proposal in November of 2008 and the Indian Nations immediately filed a request that the project not be allowed to continue until BLM complied with federal law.

The District Court in Reno denied the Indian Nations' injunction request at which point the Indian Nations appealed to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. After considering the evidence and conducting a hearing in San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit, on December 3, 2009, in a unanimous 3-judge ruling, published its decision agreeing with the Indian Nations. The Ninth Circuit ordered the District Court to issue the injunction.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with the Indian Nations that BLM had likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), finding that BLM failed to adequately consider the significant impacts from the Cortez Hills Project on Mount Tenabo on air and water quality.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision took effect January 25, 2010. On that date, Barrick filed a motion with the District Court in Reno to limit the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, asking the court to instead enjoin only a very limited subset of activities at the mine site.

Discussing the Indian Nations' Motion, John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch stated, “Barrick’s hollow offer in their motion was too vague and incomplete to assure that the irreparable harm to the Tribes and the environment will not occur while the deficiencies in the EIS are addressed. The law is very clear that the purpose of an EIS is to develop a full picture of all the impacts enabling a balanced evaluation of the mine and whether impact mitigation plans are adequate. The Ninth Circuit clearly found that BLM violated these fundamental legal requirements.”

In requesting the district court to limit the Ninth Circuit’s ruling by issuing only an extremely limited injunction, Barrick stresses the economic benefits from the project and potential temporary layoffs that might occur if the project is enjoined.

Hadder said, “Barrick chose to proceed with the project while the injunction request was being litigated and nonetheless hired workers. Thus, the potential economic losses stated by Barrick are losses of Barrick’s own making.” Hadder added, “Had Barrick decided to be cautious in light of the litigation, there would not be this economic situation, but a manageable trajectory of employment and economy.”

“Barrick knew very well that there was a risk in proceeding with the development of the Cortez Hills mine in the shadow of litigation. Unfortunately, Barrick’s gamble is played out on the backs of the workers and contractors. We hope that Barrick will behave as a better employer at this point and seek to relocate those employees slated to be laid off,” said Larson Bill, Council Member for the South Fork Band. Bill is also the Te-Moak Tribe and community planner for the plaintiff Western Shoshone Defense Project.

Construction of the mine is nearly complete with large-scale impact to the lands and some removal of water from Mount Tenabo. Barrick proposed to reduce some groundwater pumping and some other minor changes to the project, but declined halting full-scale blasting and excavation of the 2,000 foot deep mine pit, as well as beginning the cyanide-leach processing of the gold ore.

Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, legal counsel for the Western Shoshone Defense Project, said, “It is surprising that given the contentions surrounding mining at Mount Tenabo that more care was not taken in developing the EIS. This is especially poignant in terms of the enormous impacts of the Mine, which desecrates Mount Tenabo, a place held sacred by many Western Shoshone for countless generations.”

The Tribes’ Motion was filed by Roger Flynn, attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, a non-profit law firm which represents the Indian Nations in the case.

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