International attempt to control U.S. mining fails

Published February 1, 2000

An attempt to place U.S. mining under international control, made by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Marrakesh, Morocco in December, was soundly rejected by the U.S. State Department.

The department’s strong stand for U.S. sovereignty over its mining operations was prompted, in large part, by a brief but heated hearing held earlier in Rep. Barbara Cubin’s (R-Wyoming) Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. “The United States notes that mining policy is an internal matter for sovereign states,” the State Department’s official observer, Shirley Hart, told the committee, “and that the committee is not dictating what domestic policies on this issue should be.”

“If the committee chooses to authorize or participate in any follow-up discussions on the subject of mining and World Heritage,” she added, “it is the position of the United States that these discussions must be fully transparent and open to the stakeholders. It is noted, for example, that the International Council on Metals and the Environment was invited to comment on the [World Conservation Union] policy but the National Mining Association of the United States was not involved at all.”

The attempt to control U.S. mining came as a result of a report by the World Conservation Union, otherwise known as the IUCN, which was defended at the hearing by Adrian Phillips, chairman of IUCN’s Commission on Protected Areas. Under intense questioning by Cubin and Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), Phillips said the IUCN policy to restrict mining in a wide variety of sites was simply a position paper, “really nothing more than what counties already do anyway . . . a statement of best practices.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brooks Yeager further defended the proposal as something that would not be up for adoption in the December conference. He said banning mining in and around World Heritage Sites would not be brought up for consideration.

But it was. And it was rejected by the U.S.

The IUCN proposal would have controlled mining in and around World Heritage Sites as well as areas that fall under “an international definition of a protected areas as follows: An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.”

Such broad, vague language led former senator Malcom Wallop, now executive director of Frontiers for Freedom, to tell the committee he feared the Clinton-Gore administration would use the proposal, if adopted, to alter federal land management without consulting either mining interests or the public. He predicted an “elite international movement” would probably try to urge the UN to block mines worldwide. Chenoweth pointed out that the U.N. had already aligned itself with environmental organizations to try prevent mining in the U.S., Australia, and Indonesia.

Reactions of these countries to IUCN attempts to control mining in and around World Heritage Sites has been varied, and revealing. Indonesia’s attitude has been to ignore restrictions. Australia led a vigorous and successful effort to prevent the IUCN’s attempted shut-down of a uranium mine in that country’s Kakadu National Park.

In the United States, by contrast, the Clinton-Gore administration has permitted the abandonment of plans to reopen a gold mine near, but not actually in, Yellowstone National Park, a designated World Heritage Site. The administration said at the time it did not believe allowing a group of international organizations, such as IUCN and WHC, to dictate mining policy in the U.S. to be an infringement on our national sovereignty.

The extent to which IUCN has gone to use scare tactics to induce hysteria over mining was demonstrated in its January 1999 publication, Metals from the forests. The publication claimed “large-scale mines displace local communities.” It goes on to say “State or private armies are sometimes used to secure mines” and that life expectancies of those living near mining sites can be “substantially reduced.” It concluded that “mineral wealth can actually depress social conditions in developing countries.”

The publication offered no scientific evidence to support its conclusions. When questioned about the publication in the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing, IUCN’s Phillips offered none.