When Environmentalism Becomes Corruption

Published January 22, 2019

All across the United States, private property rights are under assault – assault by state and federal legislators and regulators, environmentalist groups, wealthy liberal foundations, corporations and other special interests, often acting in coordination or collusion with one another. They are seizing or taking control of lands and other valuable property without due process or just compensation, under a host of environmental and other justifications, many of which are fictional at best.

I have personally witnessed attempts to shut down the small mining industry in my state of Colorado. Exploration and development by this industry often results in discoveries of major deposits of minerals that are essential for everything we make, use and do – including medical equipment, cell phones, computers, aircraft, aerospace, automobiles, wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, and modern high-tech weapon and communication systems.

Actions that block mineral development in the United States make us 50-100% dependent on sometimes less than friendly foreign sources, and on mines that are operated using, abusing and under-paying parents and children, often under horrendous health, safety and environmental conditions.

Stories like what my company went through can be found everywhere in the United States now. Worse, they are no longer confined only to businesses that rely on development of our nation’s vast and highly available natural resources – done today with the highest regard for laws, worker safety and the ecology.

My parents co-founded our family’s mining business. In their later years, they suffered incredible, needless physical and financial pain – at the hands of clever crooks who defrauded our company and ideologically corrupt bureaucrats who took advantage of corrupt legal and regulatory systems to devise yet another opportunity to close yet another mining operation.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) eagerly supported the crooks in an attempt to steal and destroy our hard work and the investments of 135 mostly senior citizen shareholders in our privately held Colorado corporation. In the process, our corporate and personal names were slandered in local newspapers by false reports from DRMS officials.

Far too many government agencies are corrupted now because they have been largely taken over by radical environmentalists, who know little about mining or society’s crucial need for minerals, who are ideologically opposed to mining and other productive land uses, and whose ideologies too often make them think they are above the law.

Environmentalism has become a new religion, whose extremists will do whatever it takes to fulfill their misguided life missions, to engage in what far too often amounts to injustice and legalized theft.

Worst of all, they have no respect for those who literally stake their time, their fortunes and even their lives mining for metals that make our modern technologies, lives, health and living standards possible. There is little difference between them and other radical religious zealots who cross the line from respectful observance into insanity and acts of depravity. They miss few opportunities to undermine America’s once incredible opportunities under the guise of “saving the planet” – mostly from problems and dangers that have been wildly exaggerated or willfully misrepresented or even concocted.

When we began underground hard rock mining near Silverton in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in 1980, regulations were comparatively few – but compared to earlier times of few or no rules, mostly sensible and more than ample to ensure human safety and environmental protection.

Dynamite was available at the local hardware store. It was very important for us to protect the environment and operate with the utmost safety. We did exactly that, as we were initially regulated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for the environment and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for safety. In all those years, our company never had a single lost time accident; always took great care to protect the air, water and wildlife habitats; and made sure we never disturbed any more land than was absolutely necessary.

The DRMS began regulating our silver mine several years later. The transition went smoothly for several years, but then silver prices dropped to unsustainable levels. We reclaimed much of the historically mined silver property at our own expense for later use – then raised more capital from family and friends to expand into gold mining in 1988 with the purchase of 370 acres of private mineral property and associated permits. Our new property was surrounded by USFS public land.

A private litigation ensued, which we won handily – even though the DRMS entered the fray in an attempt to use the opportunity to gain more control over our property and mining in general. A concerned Colorado state representative came to our rescue at the time and blocked the DRMS action.

The agency had just become involved in the Summitville open pit mine disaster in the 1990s. The environmental disaster involved extensive pollution of local streams due to leakage of acidic water that contained large quantities of toxic heavy metals originating from decades-old mine tunnels from decades-old mining operations and poorly constructed storage pits associated with more recent open-pit mining.

The DRMS and other agencies should have regulated the operations and pollution much more responsibly from the outset. But they were largely inattentive and negligent. The disaster ultimately cost Colorado and U.S. taxpayers over $150,000,000 – a liability that the agency then capitalized on as an excuse to increase the price for reclamation bonds to unreasonable levels.

It was the first major example in Colorado of environmental activist bureaucrats attempting to regulate an industry in which it actually had no or too few qualifications, and doing so more from a position of opposing activities that they disliked and whose value they did not appreciate.

Fast forward to 2015. The historic San Juan Mining District experienced an even greater disaster: the infamous 2015 Gold King Mine Spill, whose direct cause can be laid squarely on the DRMS, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DRMS policies for handling earthen plugs in old mine portals had already been evaluated by the United States Geological Survey, which strongly advised against this method of remediating leakage from abandoned mines. The USGS was ignored.

Negative environmental impacts from reopening caved-in portals have been a problem for decades. It should be obvious that plugging a leak or opening while water is still flowing into a mine means it will fill up and spill over. If the water mixes with acid-generating elements underground, it will become acidic. Yet the DRMS signed off on its policies and practices anyway – causing a disaster that even today is costing taxpayers more millions of dollars, with ongoing cleanup costs that will eventually make the Summitville clean-up costs look cheap.

And still, when my company was in court with the DRMS in 2017, its lawyer told the judge and courtroom that the DRMS would undoubtedly need to plug our portals. Some bureaucrats never learn, or will say anything to an uneducated populace to shut down legitimate operators.

In fact, another vast area in the San Juans, once one of the richest underground mining districts in the world, is now off limits to mining – not because of shoddy mining practices, but because incompetent and ideologically driven bureaucrats have been handed the reins to regulate access into oblivion.

What does this country do for essential everyday minerals, when ideological bureaucrats have closed most mines and declared them “Permanently Closed”? In Colorado, it appears the “solution” is to have thousands of people sitting around idle, smoking pot, because many Colorado legislators and regulators now think the State can be financed for the foreseeable future through sales of cannabis.

Thankfully, Proposition 111 on Colorado’s recent election ballot was struck down. It would have crippled the robust oil and gas industry that makes our comfortable lives in this country the envy of all, by creating thousands of jobs, literally fueling our economy, providing raw materials for plastics and countless other consumer products, and generating billions of dollars in annual government revenues.

The general public is mostly unaware that the DRMS was the Colorado agency responsible for regulating Royal Dutch Shell out of the state after 30 years of highly responsible stewardship and incredible job creation. Shell spent hundreds of millions of dollars successfully developing and testing an extraction method from oil shale – but finally raised its hands in surrender when unrealistic demands by state officials became impossible to meet.

Shell’s in-situ (in-place) process would have caused minimal surface disturbance while making oil economically available from an estimated two trillion barrels of untapped resources in a three-state area. Just that one deposit contains more oil than Saudi Arabia. Much of their equipment is now set up and operating in Jordan in the Middle East, where Shell’s investment may exceed $20 billion dollars. The potential for tens of thousands of high paying jobs in Colorado is gone, thanks to activist bureaucrats.

My personal nearly 40-year involvement in Colorado mining witnessed this invasion of radical environmentalist bureaucrats who would say or do anything to stop mining and oil and gas production that reduces our dependence on foreign natural resources. They refuse to recognize that modern rules, technologies and practices, as well as industry attitudes and ethics, are hugely different from those that prevailed in the past, when they sometimes lead to accidents, mishaps and environmental degradation.

They don’t want mining or drilling done properly and by the book. They don’t want it done at all. And yet they are not about to give up any of the conveniences, transportation, communication, technologies, gadgets or living standards that depend on the metals, minerals and energy that come out of the ground.

These same radicals want to replace free enterprise capitalism (actually, their distorted views of what capitalism is and does) with centrally controlled socialism (and their imaginary world of utopian life happily ever after from that failed system). I’ve been to a number of socialist countries and have nothing but sympathy for their people’s lives in abject poverty, disease, deprivation and misery. How our schools, politicians and news media can teach and laud these destructive ideologies is a mystery to me.

In 2012, my company accepted some outside financing to help develop what appeared to be an incredibly valuable deposit of gold and other metals – one that would have brought tens of millions of dollars in revenues to Colorado state coffers. Over the following months, however, it became apparent that we were involved in a hostile takeover attempt by a sophisticated but crooked New York hedge fund.

As the hedge fund descended into bankruptcy, it hand-picked an equally unscrupulous receiver who took over operations, made false allegations about me and my company after realizing she did not know how to operate a mine – and then called on the Colorado DRMS to investigate us and, in effect, become part of the fund’s and receiver’s takeover operation.

The DRMS issued “cease and desist” orders before gathering relevant facts. It seized private property and buildings. Our high-value assets began disappearing, including valuable and once well-secured core samples that demonstrated the mine’s incredible potential – all under the supposed watch and care of DRMS inspectors and lawyers.

What can only be called a DRMS kangaroo court followed, in which our expert witness was told to sit down and not say another word. Instead of a jury of our peers, the DRMS’ impaneled seven “conservationist jurors,” who passed judgment based on its inspectors’ false reports and testimony – all while feigning transparency and evenhandedness – bureaucratic watchwords that are used to cover their highly deceptive practices.

While we fought this battle in the Colorado Federal Bankruptcy Court, DRMS lawyers refused to hand over subpoenaed documents, offering excuses like “that inspector doesn’t work here anymore.” Requested government emails were lost, unavailable or destroyed, in violation of laws and regulations.

Three years into the sordid affair, the DRMS field office that had handled much of our operation was closed, ending 25 years of operation and leaving its records and personnel unavailable. Inspectors received early retirement packages, while my shareholders, family and I were left gasping for answers and totally uncompensated for our losses.

Remaining DRMS bureaucrats are still assisting a federal agency in disposing of our valuable property, in the hope that it will not be considered for mining ever again. Ironically, the property was previously owned by Union Oil/Molycorp, a company that for decades specialized in rare earth elements. These strategic minerals are found in unique and uncommon settings, like those associated with our deposit. They are essential for defense, aerospace, renewable energy and countless other modern technologies.

As to my company, we did not have the funds or political connections to investigate or prosecute the criminals and bureaucrats who robbed us – with DRMS assistance. The hedge fund fraudsters face multiple counts of criminal fraud in an upcoming trial that will not restore our money, property or rights.

Meanwhile, the DRMS is again walking away unscathed by its glaring incompetence and corruption – with its bureaucrats likely bragging to one another about “mission accomplished” in blocking our mine … while getting nice paychecks, bonuses and pensions in the process.

It appears I have lost that battle. But I am on a new mission now: To highlight the attitudes, ideologies, corruption and outright criminality of too many elitist and self-serving “public servants,” and to restore as many rights to hard-working American individuals as possible.

We need rules to protect environmental values and worker health and safety. But they must be rational and fairly administered – and so that we can meet essential societal and technological needs

Horror stories like ours need to be investigated and brought into the open – and bureaucrats who think they are above the law need to be brought to justice. The arrogance and dominance of our ruling elites explains why President Trump was elected, and why millions of angry “yellow vest” protesters have been railing in the streets of France to block rising energy taxes.

America and American freedom and prosperity were founded on principles of private property rights. Those rights are now under constant assault by increasingly powerful and unaccountable politicians, bureaucrats and activists. If this continues, our nation will cease to exist.

Changing this intolerable, ultimately anti-America situation is the vow I made to my father shortly before he passed away. It’s a vow all Americans should make, if they want to keep this nation a prosperous land of opportunity for citizens and newcomers alike, for this generation and generations to come.

Craig Liukko has owned and operated underground mining, mineral processing and manufacturing businesses for over 40 years. He has traveled to many countries in Central America, the Middle East and Africa, helping them create jobs – safely and ecologically.