There’s gold in them thar hills!


Recently I accompanied a delegation of the European parliament’s Petitions Committee to Romania, to look inter alia at a proposed gold mining project at Rosia Montana.    There are environmental concerns about the extraction of gold, a process which uses cyanide.  At the same time the project offers a huge economic and employment opportunity in one of the poorest parts of the EU.

In Romania, we heard a broad range of views.  While I am no expert on mining and mining waste, I formed the view that adequate safeguards were in place and that on balance the huge potential benefits outweighed the risks.  The challenges of gold extraction are there to be managed, not to be fled from in terror.

One of our Romanian colleagues, Mr. Victor Bostinaru, organised a “debate” in the parliament today on the issue.  I say “debate”, but what Mr. Bostinaru had organised was in fact a deliberate hatchet job, presumably designed for political consumption at home, in which he systematically and deliberately sought to deny airtime to any opinion but his own.  His behaviour was such an affront to parliamentary norms that I felt moved to write to the Chairman of the Petitions Committee, Erminia Mazzoni MEP, to draw it to her attention.

Dear Erminia,

I thought that in your capacity as Chairman of the Petitions Committee, you might be interested in the Hearing organised and chaired this morning by our colleague Victor Bostinaru on the subject of the Rosia Montana gold mining project.  You will recall that a delegation from the Petitions Committee recently visited Romania, and heard from both supporters and objectors to the project.  I have taken an interest in this debate, and I attended the hearing from the start, at 9:30.  The agenda provided for a general debate at 10:20, after three speakers, and before a second round of five further speakers.

The representative of the Danish Presidency presented a speech which almost totally lacked content or relevance to the issue.  The Commission speaker Michel Sponar gave a very competent presentation on the Directive on Mining Waste.

Apart from that, every single speaker, including Bostinaru, Leinen, Catalin Ivan, and Stephanie Roth (of the Ecologist magazine) engaged in a relentless hatchet-job on the Rosia Montana project.

I had anticipated making some remarks during the “Debate” session, but the Chairman decided because of time pressure to go straight on to the second panel.  I therefore asked to make a point of order, which Mr. Bostinaru refused.  I nevertheless stated my objection briefly, and I hope courteously, but robustly.  This is not how we expect these things to be done in the European parliament.  If we are to have a debate, both sides need to be represented.

Mr. Bostinaru’s refusal to take an intervention from a colleague, or even to take a point of order related to the agenda, showed a great and reprehensible disrespect for the practices, customs and values of this House, and an outrageously partisan approach from the Chair.

I should add that the only balanced and sensible contribution came from the Commission.  I was impressed by Mr. Sponar’s presentation on the Directive on Mining Waste, which seemed very thorough and rigorous.  I am no expert on mining waste, but given the existence of the comprehensive and detailed EU law, and the supervision which will be exercised by the Commission and the national authorities, it seems to me that the balance of argument, in view of the economic opportunity offered by the project, is positive.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Bostinaru’s approach to Chairmanship in this House will not be allowed to become a precedent.

Best regards.

ROGER HELMER MEP

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9 Responses to There’s gold in them thar hills!

  1. Romania is certainly not a place which is known for its discussion and toleration of opposing views. What is so depressing is the confirmation of Gresham’s law: the bad drives out the good.
    I do hope that the parliament, like the commission, doesn’t start being a complete rubber stamp for orthodox opinions. At the moment, we, the voters, do have a chance at getting our views across through people like yourself.
    By the way, you are completely right – whatever the orthodox say!

    (PS I am unsubscribing because I shall not be around in February, not for any other reason.)

  2. Axel says:

    I wonder what gives Bostinaru the right to interfere in a commercial operation in Romania, by imposing some diktat over the local commerce policy of Romania itself? Of course Victor Bostinaru is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, headed up until his “appointment” as President of the Parliament, by that well known critic of commerce, Martin Schulz.

    I am not an expert in Romanian politics, but is seems to me that the ideas of Bostinaru are not universally acclaimed in Romania itself. What do other Romanian MEPs think about this issue, such as Ramona Mănescu (PNL) for instance? According to her resumé, Mănescu aims to promote the real priorities of Romania in the European Parliament, to protect the rights of Romanian citizens and their interests.

    The Presidents of both Chambers of the Romanian National Parliament are both Members of the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), and indeed Sulfina Barbu who is President of the Committee for Public Administration Territorial Planning and Ecological Balance is also a PDL Member.

    Then there is the controversial Elena Băsescu MEP whose father, Traian Băsescu is the current president of Romania, does have a degree in economics, and both are Members of the PDL. Perhaps opion ought to be sought from Romanian MEPs who are more representative of Government policy and popular opinion in Romania itself, tha listening to the rants of aggrieved uber-Socialists like Bostinaru et al.

  3. “At the same time the project offers a huge economic and employment opportunity in one of the poorest parts of the EU.”

    On one hand, there is very little gold (a few grams to a ton of rock) and a bit more silver, just enough to assure a profit if the gold is bought at the price fixed in the original contract. Not much employment opportunity, since the work won’t be done manually.

    On the other hand, it is an easy target for pressure groups … my mistake, ONGs looking to boost their revenue stream: ONGs financed by EU or single donors within EU have substituted themselves to the civil society. The “cyanide threat” is false, cyanide is an organic compound and it decomposes when exposed to ultraviolet light: the fish in the Tisza river were killed by suffocation because the chemicals that were dumped in the river by the Hungarians to “neutralize” the very small concentrations of cyanide caused oxygen depletion in the water. Almonds have more cyanide than the water in the dam that broke in 2000, but nobody is banning almonds.

  4. Pingback: Rosia Montana naste scantei intre jurnaliste. Magdalena Moreh de la TVR vs Cristina Horvat alias Lavinia Sandru de la cotidianul.ro | Ziarişti Online

  5. Pingback: Socialistul Victor Bostinaru ne mustra intr-un Drept la Replica. Europarlamentarul Roger Helmer despre Bostinaru si Rosia Montana | Ziarişti Online

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  7. gheorghe banzea says:

    as a romanian liberal,i always give high consideration to all investment projects,be domestic or foreign.

    rosia montana project is,although,a controversial one,with good reasons to fight against it(environment protection,small number of new jobs created,later stages people unrests in the area,etc.).

    hereto i do attach some international comments.

    best regards,

    g.banzea

    Attach:

    To illustrate, one Canadian gold mining company, Goldcorp, maintains mines in the following Latin America nations: Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Goldcorp represents just one of the many Canadian mining companies in Latin America, yet its mines have been associated with numerous infractions, including the destruction of archaeological sites, acid mine drainage, water resource depletion in drought-prone areas, polluting water resources with copper and iron, high levels of arsenic and lead in local inhabitants, mercury poisoning, pipeline bursts, and disregarding the pleas of locals.[xix]

    Ban on use of cyanide mining technologies
    P7_TA(2010)0145
    European Parliament resolution of 5 May 2010 on a general ban on the use of cyanide mining
    technologies in the European Union
    (2011/C 81 E/13)
    The European Parliament,

    Hidden Hegemony: Canadian Mining In Latin America – Analysis
    Written by: COHA
    July 28, 2011
    By Daniel Whalen
    Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, and in 2004 its world market share accounted for 60 percent of all mining companies. In fact, the entire Latin American region is second only to Canada in terms of the breadth of its mining exploration and development activity.[i] In what some call the “halo effect,” Canadian industries have been perceived as the more conscientious alternative to their U.S. equivalents. Since Canadian industries are understood to have socially responsible practices, especially in contrast to those of American companies, they are typically welcomed abroad.[ii] Nonetheless, recent accusations that the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim played a role in the death squad killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador has brought this reputation into question, while further investigation into the Canadian government’s regulation reveals that the government has mandated no true restrictions on its industry’s mining practices abroad. Left to its own accord, the Canadian mining industry has no problem destroying landscapes, uprooting communities, and even resorting to violence to promote its interests; for this reason, only government regulation can affect true change. A recent move by the Peruvian government to protect citizens near the city of Puno demonstrates that Latin American governments may finally be willing and able to regulate Canadian mining companies operating within their nations.
    One Canadian Mining Company’s Response To Resistance
    Canadian mining companies often resort to extreme measures to promote their interests. The Canadian government has failed to regulate its mining industry abroad, but accusations that Pacific Rim, a mining company based in Vancouver, played a role in the deaths of anti-mining reporters in El Salvador demonstrates the extent of destruction that mining can reach in the region when left unchecked. In a July 12, 2011 statement, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont condemned the killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador following the June 14, 2011 discovery of Juan Francisco Duran Ayala’s body; he was last seen posting flyers critical of gold mining in the region. His death is the most recent of numerous violent attacks against anti-mining activists in the country’s Cabañas region. [xi] In 2010, three anti-mining activists in the region were gunned down, after receiving numerous death threats citing their activism regarding the El Dorado mine in El Salvador. As a result, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanded that the Salvadoran government protect the rights of journalists and the media. [xii]
    One radio station in El Salvador, Radio Victoria, reports receiving death threats as well as threats on family members unless they curb their anti-mining expression.[xiii] Reporters without Borders described the station’s critical role, saying, “For nearly a decade, Radio Victoria has been the mouthpiece of local communities and environmental activists opposed to the mining operations of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corp. The station has played a key role in providing the local population with information about the dangers that the mining poses to their health and even their survival.”[xiv] Given Radio Victoria’s strong anti-mining stance, one reporter said, “We don’t trust the men who are protecting us. The mining company has connections with the local authorities. I don’t trust the local police.”[xv] The Prosecutor General’s Office is in charge of this investigation, but despite the national and international attention surrounding the events, no report was issued as of June 2011.[xvi] The failure to produce any real answers surrounding these threats and murders suggests that Pacific Rim’s influence may reach beyond local death squads to the Salvadoran government.
    The Negative Effects Of Canadian Mining Around The World
    Canadian industries operating abroad have always benefitted from positive perceptions of the nation’s practices resulting from the aforementioned “halo effect.”[xvii] However, in truth, Canadian mining often has drastic consequences for local environments and communities; thus, recent activities, in reality, stand to dampen this image. Across the globe, Canadian mining companies destroy landscapes, contaminate the environment, and disturb the lives of locals. Meanwhile, the Canadian government does little, if anything, to hold these companies accountable for their exploits. In effect, environmental groups recognize that Canadian mining firms are “just as bad as the most ruthless of American companies.”[xviii]
    To illustrate, one Canadian gold mining company, Goldcorp, maintains mines in the following Latin America nations: Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Goldcorp represents just one of the many Canadian mining companies in Latin America, yet its mines have been associated with numerous infractions, including the destruction of archaeological sites, acid mine drainage, water resource depletion in drought-prone areas, polluting water resources with copper and iron, high levels of arsenic and lead in local inhabitants, mercury poisoning, pipeline bursts, and disregarding the pleas of locals.[xix]
    The Effects Of Mining On The Environment
    Depletion of water resources and contamination are the principal negative ramifications of mining, in addition to physical destruction. Mining companies often forcibly monopolize water resources, as many mining techniques require large amounts of water. As a result, local communities are left with a profound shortage or impaired quality of water. For example, Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala uses approximately 2,175,984,000 liters per year compared to the 153,300 used by an average North American citizen or the average 13,505 liters used by an African citizen.[xx] The problem is exacerbated in areas that receive as little as 150 mm of rainfall per year such as northwest Argentina, where the joint venture Alumbrera mine operated by Goldcorp, Xstrata and Northern Orion depletes the already precarious water supply, leaving locals in desperation.[xxi]
    Water pollution has a more detrimental and long-lasting effect on the environment than water depletion. Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), the most common form of mining contamination, occurs when sulfides housed in the rock are exposed to air during excavation, forming sulfuric acid. This acid runs off into nearby streams and lakes, polluting the surrounding watershed. The acid dissolves other heavy metals it encounters such as copper, lead, arsenic, zinc, selenium and mercury, which further pollute the surface and ground water of the region.[xxii] AMD can continue for thousands of years after the mine is closed, as illustrated by a 2,000-year-old mine in Great Britain that continues to produce AMD today. Goldcorp mines have been associated with AMD in four Latin American countries: Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Argentina.[xxiii]
    Cyanide, used to extract gold and silver from the surrounding rock, makes large-scale processing possible, but when released into the environment, it can have serious consequences. On average, 70 tons of waste is created in the processing of 1 ounce of gold. At Goldcorp’s San Martín mine in Honduras, an average of .78 ounces of gold is extracted from every ton of ore, and an enormous amount of rock must be moved. When chemically treated rock and ore, known as ‘mine tailings,’ spill during transport, the water supply can become contaminated with cyanide.[xxiv] Though mining companies report that cyanide is broken down by sunlight and transformed into a nontoxic form, it frequently harms, or even kills, aquatic life.[xxv] At the La Coipa mine in Chile, a former Goldcorp holding, mercury as well as cyanide was discovered in groundwater as a result of mine seepage. Blood samples taken from the local community population near Goldcorp’s San Martín mine in Honduras registered high levels of mercury, lead and arsenic.[xxvi]

    Since 2000, Rights Action has been supporting and involved with struggles
    related to Goldcorp Inc’s open-pit, cyanide-bonding mines in Honduras and
    Guatemala, and related to HudBay Mineral’s nickel mine (formerly owned by
    INCO and then Skye Resources) in Guatemala. (At http://www.rightsaction.org, there
    is extensive information about health and environmental harms and human
    rights violations linked to these mines and companies.)

    MINING COMPANIES GEARING UP IN HONDURAS As Killings, Repression and Impunity Continue Unchecked in the ‘Murder Capital’ of the World
    Sunday, January 22, 2012
    Posted by Rights Action Team | 0 comments
    Even as Honduras is now known as the ‘murder capital’ of the world, even as Honduras is known as one of the ‘journalist-killing capitals’ of the world, and even as it has become a ‘LGBT repression and killing capital’ as well, the Congress in Honduras (the same Congress that rubber-stamped the illegal and violent 2009 military coup) is aiming to pass a new Mining Law. The global (mainly Canadian) mining industry is waiting to rush in.
    “INVESTORS ARE PRESSURING A LOT”
    In a letter written on behalf of Honduran organizations, including the Siria Valley Environmental Committee that since 2000 has been suffering and denouncing environmental and health harms caused by Goldcorp Inc’s cyanide-leaching, open-pit/ mountain-top removal mine in the Siria Valley, Pedro Landa (pedro_landa@hotmail.com) writes:
    “The National Congress of Honduras is preparing to pass a new mining law in the coming weeks which will reopen the processes of concession and operation of more than 300 mining projects. In spite of the efforts of Honduran organizations, the Congressional commission on mining issues has closed the door to citizen participation. In a meeting, the president of the congressional commission argued that “Investors are pressuring a lot”. …
    “After going over the new proposal, we found that many of our suggestions, particularly the most important ones (such as the obligatory and binding nature of prior consultation, the prohibition of open pit mining and the use of toxic substances like cyanide and mercury, the possibility of broadening the mining exclusion zones and a legal typifying of environmental crimes) have been left out and Congress is not willing to advance in consensus building with social organizations.” (Translation: Proyecto de Acompañamiento Internacional en Honduras,http://friendshipamericas.org/honduras)
    MINING AND THE MILITARY COUP AGAINST PRESIDENT ZELAYA
    There are a number of nefaste reasons why the democratically elected government of Honduras was ousted in the June 28, 2009 military coup. One factor was that the government declared, in 2008, a moratorium on the handing out of any more mining concessions, recognizing that the Supreme Court found that some 13 articles of the previous (pro-industry) Mining Law to be unconstitutional, recognizing that great environmental and health harms suffered by villagers from the Siria Valley, in and around Goldcorp Inc’s cyanide leaching, mountain-top removal/ open pit mine.
    MORE INFORMATION: Grahame Russell (info@rightsaction.org) & Annie Bird (annie@rightsaction.org)

  8. tj says:

    this country it’s already sold!it’s OUR GOLD and no one has the right to tell us what to do!NO TO THE ROSIA MONTANA PROJECT!

  9. Izabela says:

    Have we really learned nothing from past history? I don’t understand why everyone is so set against the enviromental issue of the situation. Not very long ago, catastrophic disasters did happen in Romania, due to mining. Anyone can look into what happened in Baia Mare, considered to be the second disaster after Cernobal. With negative economic, health, wildlife consequences and much more. The general impression throughout the international media had a tint of…what can you do, Romania is still a post comunist country, we cannot ask or expect much from it. Indeed, it seems people have short memory and forgot all about that . Who can guarantee that this won’t happen again? And if it does, that the responsibles will pay? Although what good will that do, when there’s no possible way to undo the harm once it is going to be done. And now, when we dare raise our voices in genuine concern if not for ourselves, but for our children and the legacy we leave behind, now Romania is looked at with a raised brow. We are considered the beggers of Europe that are in no condition to have a word of saying in what happens to our country. If the Rosia Montana project would be such an economic breakthrough, then why not manage it ourselves? We are constantly criticized that we have a low european funds absorbtion rate. Why the need to call someone else to do what should be our work? I repeat, if this should be such a safe project in the first place. Which, with nothing more than common sense and a bit of detailed research, it’s plain obvious that is nothing but bad news. So yes, we are upset, because the politicians that should be watching our best interests are selling us for a dime and the whole Europe is expecting for us to shut up. Money before people, as it always is…

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