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Memo to Seattle: Rein in Your Economic Genocide of Idaho

By: David Bond

-- Posted 9 September, 2010 | | Discuss This Article - Comments:

The Wallace Street Journal


Dear Seattle:


Imagine if some unelected bureaucracy in Post Falls, Idaho, decided, using computer models, that airplanes were unsafe because: (a) they crash once in awhile, and; (b) the aluminum and plastics used in their manufacture were unsafe to human health if consumed in large enough quantities. Having reached this conclusion, this Idaho bureaucracy ordered the closure of all Boeing plants in your state for 50 to 90 years – said order absolute and not subject to court challenge.


What would your reaction be? Probably similar to how those of us residing in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District of northern Idaho feel about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region X push for an irrevocable 50- to 90-year record of decision (ROD) imposing absolute rule over our mining community of 10,000 people. This gives an unelected federal agency 300 miles from us absolute power over land-use and landscaping decisions and whatever it arbitrarily (again without recourse or appeal) determines to be “responsible mining,” all under the designation of Superfund.


We mine silver, lead and zinc, along with a bit of copper and gold, because these metals occur here, as opposed to, say, Queen Anne Hill or Redmond, in economic concentrations. Rain strikes these outcrops and washes them into our multitude of creeks and rivers. Tests of mud chinking taken from the bottom of the Coeur d'Alene River and used during the 1850-'53 construction of the Cataldo Mission of the Sacred Heart – 30 years before mineral prospecting here began – revealed jaw-dropping concentrations of lead on the order of 1,500 p.p.m. The laboratory-certified assays of the Mission's construction materials followed EPA testing protocol to the letter.


Here is something any lead miner with a high-school education understands, but the social scientists behind EPA policy apparently don't get: Lead exists in many forms, some inert, some harmful. Lead-sulfide, commonly known as galena, isn't bio-available. Miners can toil in the lead mines their entire lives without any “lead poisoning” effects because they're mining galena. Lead-oxide, which was used in household paint and window putty, and can also be created when lead-sulfides, in the form of mine tailings, are dredged from from river bottoms and exposed to oxygen and rainwater, is hugely toxic and an attractive nuisance for children because it tastes like candy. The French used to use lead-acetate to sweeten sour vintages of wine until they discovered it made a good portion of their population sick. The point is, mine tailings comprising galena, are not of themselves harmful unless disturbed by an EPA backhoe.


But according to EPA, “Lead is lead is lead.” No discussion. I wish just one reporter from the Seattle Times, Seattle P-I or the Spokane Spokesman-Review would take a night course in chemistry or metallurgy, and call EPA's toxic bluff. One journalist actually looked into EPA's toxic policy: Peter Samuel, in his seminal 2001 book, Lead Astray. Read the introduction's opening paragraph:


Like old generals who always want to fight the last war, the EPA regulators are continuing to fight a war against lead poisoning that has already been won. Under the EPA's direction, billions are being spent to clean up sites that are not dangerous, while doing little to remove the one source of lead that still poses a health risk to children - lead paint. Lead Astray is a story of how politics and bureaucracy trump good science and sensible policy, how the EPA's Superfund program rampages through cities and towns across America, and the local citizen backlash it has generated. This book . . . provides valuable insights into how well-meaning programs go astray and waste vast sums of money.


We did have a serious incident in the winter of 1974, when a Texas company that owned the Bunker Hill smelter allowed tons of unfiltered, toxic lead-oxide to escape up its smokestacks, raining down on the communities of Kellogg, Wardner and Smelterville. Blood-lead levels in children living near the smelter spiked to unprecedented numbers (200 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in one case). However, they quickly fell after the smelter was repaired, and a Centers for Disease Control study of the children could not find any long-term neurological or physical damage. Their brief environmental exposure was very different than an inner-city child subsisting on a diet of paint and putty chips. However, the smelter was shut down in 1981, subsequently demolished, and a 21-square-mile area around it turned into a golf course and enhanced ski resort. It's now an industry-free zone.


A Superfund designation spells economic death for a resource-based economy like ours here in Wallace, Idaho; what the long-term effect of abandoning common sense when it comes to regulating the mining of metals you need to build and keep your hybrid Priuses running will be I can only speculate. But here is what I do know: In the financial capitals of London, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Paris and Zurich, which I visit as a reporter every year, the Superfund stigma is not a record of decision. It is a death warrant. Despite recent record price trends in both base and precious metals, of which we have in abundance, we are unable to pull ourselves, the state of Idaho, or the Pacific Northwest out our current economic miseries because EPA, unwittingly or deliberately, has scared global capital away from us.


The consequences of EPA's actions get more personal. A few days ago, we took our dog for his daily swim on Placer Creek a mile from our home in Wallace. He loves that adventure. Encamped beside the creek, to ride trails on their powered dirt-bikes, were two women, one from north of Seattle, the other from near Sandpoint, Idaho. They were mortified we were heading toward the water. “Isn't that dangerous?” they asked. “Aren't you afraid of getting sick from all the lead around here in the water we've read about?” How do you answer that? We pointed out that our creeks and rivers support a vibrant trout fishery, proved up by the daily full creels of numerous friends, and a population of fingerlings in the hole we were about to dive in to. EPA, however, declares our fishery dead and pushes this lie out to its stenographers in the media.


How would you like it, Seattle, if we started a scare campaign about all the crap in the bottom of the Lake Union Ship Canal or Elliott Bay or the Duwamish, or Commencement Bay, or all that aluminum and plastic they've got at Boeing? And what if, as a result, Boeing could not raise capital for a new airplane model and you had to close the Ballard Locks and the Seattle waterfront to shipping? Because that's what you're doing to us.


Don't give us your smarmy stuff about a few hundred seasonal jobs. Don't tell a self-reliant people, who gave birth to the union movement and women's suffrage, that you will do whatever you want here whether we like it or not. We prefer our mining jobs and the real wealth they create, and so would this nation's economy, and we will have those real jobs. You have forced us to make a choice: 50 years of your hegemony, or 50 years of local self-determination. The answer should be obvious. You're about to see a new bumper-sticker in these parts. It reads: “Hey, Hey, EPA, How Many Jobs Will You Kill Today?” It's a bit too big for a Prius, but it fits nicely on an SUV.


Rein in your dogs, Seattle, clean up Lake Union and the Duwamish first, and let us survive, before we have to chase you back to your Starbuck's stands by whatever Constitutional means remain at our disposal.




David Bond

Wallace, Idaho

-- Posted 9 September, 2010 | | Discuss This Article - Comments:

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