Editor’s Note: Even when local governing units make decisions for the welfare of the environment, state laws are designed to crush them. The following story covers how a small town is getting sued for passing a local ordinance to prevent pollution from factory farms. The basis of the lawsuit is that the ordinance is against the state law of Wisconsin. This story was originally published by Grist. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.
This lawsuit is far from one of its kind. Similar lawsuits have been filed against a local government for trying to protect the environment against corporate interests. DGR News Service covered a series regarding the fight of Lake Eerie Bill of Rights in the state of Ohio. Read more about it here.
The small community of Laketown, Wisconsin, home to just over 1,000 people and 18 lakes, is again at the center of a battle over how communities can regulate large, industrial farming operations in their backyards.
The town, which is half an hour from the Minnesota border, is the target of a lawsuit supported by the state’s largest business lobbying group, which claims the town board overstepped its role when it passed a local ordinance to prevent pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs*.
Filed in Polk County Circuit Court in October, the lawsuit pits local farmers against the municipality, where decisions are made by a single town chair and two supervisors. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, or WMC, a lobbying group that defines itself as the state’s “largest and most influential business association” is representing the residents suing the town through its litigation center.
Early this year, WMC sent a letter to the town board that they would see legal action if the ordinance was not repealed. The notice of claim, sent in April, argues the town passed an ordinance with various illegal provisions under state law. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center, who have previously filed lawsuits to rollback state protections against water pollution, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“They see this ordinance, if not challenged, as something that may become more the norm around the state,” Adam Voskuil, staff attorney for the nonprofit law office Midwest Environmental Advocates, told Grist. This law office has issued its support for Laketown’s ordinance in the past but is not representing the municipality in this ongoing litigation.
As the agricultural industry increasingly forces farmers to “get big or get out,” CAFOs have become plentiful across Wisconsin and the country at large, with more and more animals living on CAFO operations in recent years. The size of these farms varies within a state but generally are seen as operations with 2,000 or more pigs, 700 or more dairy cattle, or over 1,000 beef cattle.
The growth of these operations has been linked to public health problems like various cancers as well as infant death and miscarriages, caused by water contaminated with waste runoff from farms. On the other side of Wisconsin, residents in Kewaunee County have seen manure coming out of their faucets from one the largest CAFOs in the state, who sued the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource last year when they were denied a request to nearly double their size.
As more confined animal feeding operations, like the hog farm pictured, pop up across the country, towns and counties have attempted to regulate their growth. chayakorn lotongkum / Getty Images Grist
When communities try to respond with local-level enforcement, both industry interests and a lack of power at the local level cause townships to get creative with their responses.
Every state has some form of a “right-to-farm” law, which stops farms from being targeted for nuisances related to the daily operations of the industry, such as odor, noise, and effects on the environment. From there, each state has some form of a regulatory process that outlines how large farms are allowed to operate.
In Iowa, which leads the country in CAFOs, the state government sets all regulatory requirements and local towns and counties are out of luck when it comes to enforcement, according to John Robbins, Planning and Zoning Administrator for Cerro Gordo County, Iowa. He said the county once had a restrictive ordinance for CAFO zoning on the books, but after a state law took control, counties now have “very limited authority.”
Last year, when a Missouri hog farm spilled 300,000 gallons of waste into nearby waterways, two counties attempted to regulate CAFOs differently than the state government. Those counties had to sue to challenge state-level laws and are now awaiting trials in the state Supreme Court.
Further West, Gooding County, Idaho has seen the whole gambit of what Wisconsin towns could be facing. In 2007, the central Idaho county named after a famed state sheep rancher passed an ordinance regulating CAFOs in the county limits. A month later, industry groups Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Idaho Cattle Association started a court battle with the county that ended two years later, with the state supreme court ruling in the county’s favor. Gooding County’s legal representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law generally restricts how local municipalities can stop or slow new CAFOs or expansions to current facilities. This law is at the crux of arguments in opposition to Laketown and other surrounding communities’ proposed or passed ordinances.
Other Wisconsin communities have enacted local level ordinances to regulate these large farms. In 2016, northern Bayfield County enacted a CAFO ordinance that imposed a one-time fee and required operators to have increased manure storage options. After a large hog farm estimated to produce over 9 million gallons of manure a year was proposed in Polk County a few years ago, the county attempted a moratorium on CAFOs, but the measure did not pass.
Since then, at least five neighboring towns of Laketown have passed similar ordinances.
“This is one of the first times I’ve seen a town refuse to back down to some of these letters.” Adam Voskuil, Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney
The Laketown ordinance that sparked the lawsuit is an operations ordinance, unlike Bayfield’s ordinance which focused on zoning. Laketown CAFO operators are asked to file a one-time fee equal to a dollar for every animal unit as well as give detailed plans of how they will prevent ground and air pollution stemming from their facilities. Passed in 2021, the ordinance states it is based upon Laketown’s obligation to “protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public.”
All along the way, industry groups Venture Dairy Cooperative and the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, its website features the slogan “Fighting for CAFOs Every Day,” have sent threatening letters to towns that passed ordinances or moratoriums, with the help of WMC.
“This is standard operating procedure for the Big Ag boys,” said Lisa Doerr, a Laketown resident of over 20 years who raises horses and commercially farms hay and alfalfa with her husband.
Doerr has been involved at the local level in opposition to CAFO since Polk County learned of a proposed 26,000-hog farm. Doerr, who worked with the Large Livestock Town Partnership, a multi-town committee that examines the environmental impact of CAFOs, said she worried that the landscape of the town and county would change if local action wasn’t taken.
“The name of our town is Laketown because we’ve got lakes everywhere,” she said. “We still have a middle class farming community. We haven’t had corporate ag take over everything.”
In its recently filed response letter, Laketown’s attorney said WMC’s argument falls flat as it is based solely on the state-level zoning law, while the town’s ordinance regulates the operations and conduct of a facility. They also noted that since the ordinance passed, no facilities have applied for a permit, which means the town has not yet enforced any actions WMC says are unlawful. Laketown board chair Daniel King declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Voskuil said he was heartened to see that Laketown has been holding its ground. “This is one of the first times I’ve seen a town refuse to back down to some of these letters,” he said.
Farther south in Wisconsin, another county is reeling from letters threatening legal action. Crawford County, which borders Iowa, enacted a CAFO moratorium in 2019 but did not renew the moratorium after studying the issue for a year. Forest Jahnke, a coordinator with the Crawford Stewardship Project, said the decision to not renew the moratorium was highly influenced by the deluge of similar threats of litigation and backlash, which had a “chilling effect” on efforts to move forward.
“The fear of litigation is a very strong and deep one in our local municipalities and county governments,” Jahnke, who was a member of the committee studying the CAFO moratorium in Crawford County, said.
Since the moratorium rolled back, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources greenlit a Crawford County hog farm, home to 8,000 pigs and expected to generate 9.4 million gallons of manure each year
Editor’s note: People who confront the destruction of the planet find a legal system that prioritizes corporations and not uncommonly become the targets of police surveillance. Unless we take precautions, police surveillance tools can uncover our plans and organizational structures—and can contribute to a culture of paranoia that discourages action.
This training, from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, consists of interactive materials for learning what sort of tools law enforcement agencies use against journalists, but the material is practically applicable for organizers as well. We encourage our readers to study this material and consider appropriate countermeasures.
by Freedom of the Press Foundation
The Digital Security Training team at Freedom of the Press Foundation works with news organizations to better protect themselves, their colleagues, and sources by upgrading their security posture. In an environment where journalists are increasingly under attack, experiencing targeted hacking, harassment, and worse, we want to see systemic change in the way news organizations learn about and address their digital security concerns. While journalists come from many professional backgrounds, one place we can most reliably address this need for digital security education systemically is within journalism schools, where students are already learning many of the skills they will need in a contemporary newsroom. We know many programs feel underprepared for education of this kind, so we built this curriculum to better support J-schools’ goals for digital security education.
Below, we have created modules responsive to a variety of digital security topics. We intend for this resource to be used by journalism professors and educators looking for a starting point for digital security education. Ultimately, it’s our hope that by tinkering with these materials, you might take advantage of the parts most useful or inspiring to you, and make this curriculum your own.
Police Surveillance Tools Training
This section on surveillance tools used by law enforcement is discussion focused, and intends to get students to think critically about the relationship between surveillance, privacy, and transparency. It begins with lecture canvassing a variety of law enforcement surveillance technology, based on research from from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Afterward, the module opens into an activity to investigate surveillance technology used in a location of their choice, followed by a discussion of their interpretation of law enforcement surveillance technologies they’ve discovered.
Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to distinguish between technology commonly used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance in physical spaces.
Students will be able to identify which of these tools are used in a specific physical location, based on publicly-accessible reporting tools.
Why this matters
The technical capabilities of law enforcement actors may affect journalists’ threat models when conducting work in risky situations. For example, when meeting a sensitive source their location may be tracked through a constellation of surveillance equipment, or their phone numbers and current call or text data may be scooped up when covering protests.
Have students open up Atlas of Surveillance and report back for the group with surveillance technology used in a location where they’ve lived in the U.S. (e.g., where their hometown is; the campus).
Questions for discussion
In terms of their ability to compromise journalistic work, which one of these technical law enforcement capabilities is most concerning to you? What makes it concerning?
If that’s not especially concerning, why is that?
Out of respect for peoples’ privacy, are there any issues you think should be “off the table” for journalistic coverage? If so, what are those issues, and why do you think they should be off the table?
We often talk about privacy for people, but transparency for institutions. Why the distinction? Are there times when individual actions demand transparency, and when institutions have a meaningful claim to privacy?
In this piece, Matej Kudláčik describes how a system that appears democratic, participatory, and free can actually conceal a profound totalitarianism.
His argument has similarities to Sheldon Wolin’s conception of “inverted totalitarianism,” which Wolin described as being “all politics all of the time but politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.”
We’ve included a video in this post that discusses the concept of inverted totalitarianism in some detail. Part I of this essay can be found here.
By Matej Kudláčik
“The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority … Once one opts for the system no further choice remains.” — Lewis Mumford
It is no great secret that freedom and capitalism are incompatible and that we’re dancing painfully on the line between complete societal insanity and dreadful mental slavery, the enslavement of consumerism. In other words, we are more dependent on the will of corporations than on our own. Therefore we’re in a state where no freedom is possible.¹
Consumerism is based on tricking individuals into affirmation of pleasure, all while imposing a false image of the well-being of this world through apparent individual plenitude. This tool works against solidarity with the living and non-living. Solidarity requires a certain amount of renunciation of pleasure. It requires modesty and humility, so that the suffering of the world can be considered equal to the suffering of oneself. When one finds himself in constant “comfort” and no struggle², he hardly relates to the ones who are slowly dying. Without this realization, he lacks not only empathy and love, he lacks his humanity and he sees trenches and barricades in places where they are not.
He may ask: “And how does the extinct species concern us, if it is no use for us?”, because all of his material needs are fulfilled and thus, he’s unable to sympathize with horrors which don’t directly concern him and many times he does not even believe they really are. What he fails to see is that all life concerns him and what consumerism manages to do is to make him addicted to cheap pleasure which he will refuse to give up and may even defend; an addict won’t resist.
Consumerism makes us puppets of cheap pleasure
Yes, consumerism leads to pleasure but specifically only a certain amount of pleasure because this way, a person will always want more. As opposed to providing a person with a great amount of pleasure which would make the person realize the futility of such joy, similar to teasing a dog with a treat, systematically giving him services and trumperies so that he becomes obedient. A mere puppet of cheap pleasure. Overconsumption is a sickness of the spirit and ruthless spit in the face of nature and its resources.
Solidarity, reason, empathy, care and love can’t function solely on their own and each needs the help of others in order to thrive and create a human. Just as a symphony requires attendance of all the instruments and when only one violinist stops playing, the melody loses its magnificence. To an inexperienced ear, it may seem otherwise at first, but listen closely and the gap can’t be unheard. If you dismantle just one of these virtues, you dismantle a person, his humanity. For human isn’t a construction of temporal flesh. Unassailable parts of one’s humanity are his virtues and what’s beyond them. This exploitation of humanity makes capitalism a dehumanizing system. Socialism clearly exploited humanity in great extent, too, since freedom of artistic and intellectual expression are majestic human virtues and every system denying them deserves to die. The method and speed of this dehumanization differs, but both are vicious.
We could argue: it’s only exploitation when one allows his humanity to be exploited and it’s only manipulation when one allows himself to be manipulated — but here comes the problem of masses.
Opiates of the masses
Masses have and always will have a negative character – collective opinion is an error. The dismal reality of people gathering together is that they become subservient to prevalent trends, no matter how ridiculous and absurd they are. Moreover, masses love getting drunk by their leaders, masses enjoy being thrown around, for the majority finds comfort in sloth. Prevalent culture will always seem pleasing to them because it’s easier to be conforming and safer than to fight a hard fight. Because of this, only individuals and small groups are capable of making a difference and proper decisions. As an example, compare any great patriarchal civilization with any small matriarchal community. Furthermore, compare any true revolutionary and his impact with any democratic so-called change voted for by the majority. Or at any rate, compare the greatest true thinkers of history with countless followers of today’s popular world-views. The masses hold uncountable torches, yet never shine light:
The individual and small groups hold just one, yet are capable of enlightening; “Man is distinguished from other animals not only by the advantages which are commonly enumerated, but qualitatively by the fact that the individual is more than the species.” – Søren Kierkegaard
Ceasing from the masses and industrial civilization is the real solution to the catastrophes caused by man. No minor socio-political change as “regulated capitalism” or “socialism” can be sufficient to fix what is broken for this long. All political systems will fail and malevolent tendencies of man will always appear. Thus, the Big Brother has always been present, yet wore a different mask each time and acted with small modifications. Catholic Europe in Middle Ages, where the propaganda had been the word of God and every nonconformity led to burnt bodies at the stake. Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had gulags, concentration camps, propaganda, persecution. But the main thing that connects them is distortion of knowledge, truth, love, understanding and solidarity. It’s absurd to serve the interests of the government and leaders. These interests are not the interests of life. They oppose solidarity, they oppose love – it is their nature. And here we are again, wonderfully cloaked: utopistic flyers, posters, advertisement, and distortion of concepts as happiness, love and truth. You are welcome to define happiness as you wish but you are not likely to assume that it is equal to consuming and wealth. In fact, try all the pleasures of this world and see that nothing will make you happy;
“Happiness is not easy to find. It’s very difficult to find it in yourself — and impossible to find anywhere else.” – Nicolas Chamfort
The moral heart
Love is not limited to one species, rather it is a deep connection with all that is living. Implications are being made that economy stands above everything else, including life of animals and breath of trees.
So, to the ill minds, it seems that it doesn’t matter how many species go extinct as long as the financial gain keeps going. That might sound appealing to ill minds, but that’s not love, that’s self-centred greed.
“The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
And how could a culture in which the lives of animals mean less than money be moral? Industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life, nor with humanity. Today, we witness similar totalitarian patterns, yet with a different face and more hidden: one of the points of every totalitarian regime is to infect the individual so that even the mind restricts itself, whether in speech, art, work, or even thoughts. Therefore, totalitarianism chains the mind, infects it and imposes such infection precisely when one cannot really defend oneself or overcome such a folly, usually during his childhood. Dependence on technology and consumerism chain the mind, numb it and since they’re imposed by the regime, they are totalitarian techniques. By regime, I don’t mean government, for the government is only a puppet of the richest. No law restricting the richest could be ever approved and everything the government does is constructed in a way in which the corporations don’t get harmed.³
Consumerism is a totalitarian technique, imposed in a way that it’s unnoticed, by the highest leaders, imposed at the most vulnerable period of one’s life. Distorting one’s perception of important concepts and exploiting his humanity.
Modern capitalism is totalitarianism perfected
Never have the malevolent and destructive tendencies been so hidden as in capitalism – to protect an unhealthy economy, we burn forests and let ourselves be dependent on over-consumption. Capitalism is the ultimate totalitarian regime, closest to perfection [editor’s note: see Sheldon Wolin’s Inverted Totalitarianism]. That’s because it managed to soothe and blind the population with so-called liberty and freedom so that it’s completely unaware of all mental exploitation and chains. Other totalitarian systems weren’t better, less cruel, or more humane. All of them deserve to be eradicated, dismantled, burned down. But capitalism managed to put a fancy theatre in front of its audience, that’s why it will be supported and praised even by its victims. That is why a revolutionary will have to fight the masses as well as the system. Even when the facts are too obvious. What a great screenplay!
To cease from industrial civilization is to cease from this enslavement. Of course, a man will struggle with himself anyway, and utopistic concepts such as a “just and free society” should not be considered as the absolute goal.⁴ This does not mean that a biophilic and loving society is pure fiction, rather that modern civilization cannot convert to biophilia. There cannot be any real freedom in this civilization, for it necessarily implies dependence on the will of another and that another is based on selfish greed and destructiveness. It’s clear that we have to be dependent on another in some extent and thus only a life spent in complete solitude can be called “truly free”. Being dependent on another is in itself not detrimental and is even required. However, it’s also clear that spending a life dependent on a destructive another is extremely similar to a prison cell. On another who burns, murders and enslaves even you.
The fact that industrial civilization cannot coalesce with life does not mean that you cannot coalesce with life. It does not matter as much that you have built a wall between the birds and trees and
yourself: what matters more is that you must destroy it. Coalesce with life once again. Preserve love by preserving what you love. By preserving what you love, you show that the screams of burning trees strike your heart and make it weep, thus you can’t just hear but you must listen.
1 Purely in the context of society. So, this is not a place for denying the truthfulness of optimistic views as “an individual can reach freedom by finding it within himself and overcoming his environment” and neither pessimistic views as “an individual can never be truly free, for he is jailed by his own desires and inner struggle”.
2 Which is impossible because all are struggling with something, but consumerism has the ability to blind an individual – apparent plenitude; “we have everything we need and even more, so what’s your problem with this system? Never have we been so rich!” Yes, but you can’t have both material wealth and spiritual wealth – these two are incompatible: that’s one of the main reasons why religions like Buddhism and Christianity (religions, not churches) and many great philosophical systems put renunciation of earthly pleasures in their core for the sake of spirit and intellect.
3 Look at the COVID-19 restrictions and see that the richest got even richer during lockdown, while small businessmen went out of business.
Editor’s note: Already threatened by overfishing, acidification, overheating, the collapse of coral reefs, declining plankton populations, plastic pollution, and deep sea oil drilling, the world’s oceans now face a new threat: mining, disguised as “green.”
“To build a green future, in the next couple of decades the world will need to mine more metal than we’ve mined in our entire history” says Gerard Barron, CEO of The Metals Company.
There’s some truth to that statement – if we wish to meet the rising demand for new technologies, we’d need to see a sharp increase in metal extraction. After all, electric vehicles require 4x the amount of metals found in standard cars, and a single wind turbine requires 340 tonnes of metal.
Here’s the problem: the ‘green future’ he’s selling us is a lie, because what Barron fails to divulge in his upbeat sales pitch, is the ecological upheaval that his company’s plans would surely wreak.
The Metals Company plans to mine the seabed for polymetallic nodules; potato-sized objects containing metals like nickel, copper, and cobalt; essential in the production of the lithium-ion batteries being used for electric cars and (so-called) renewable energy storage.
They’re located (among other places) in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, an area of the Pacific Ocean equivalent in size to the entire Indian Subcontinent. The seabed here (despite the claims of company officials) isn’t simply a ‘vast marine desert’, it’s home to a wide variety of species whose existence depends upon the presence of these nodules.
So, what would the mining process actually look like?
They’re building house-sized machines which would indiscriminately vacuum-up the contents of the seabed and send it to a ship on the surface. This includes an estimated 2 to 6 million cubic feet of marine sediment (granulated rock) per day for every machine in operation, only then to be subsequently dumped right back into the ocean.
It’s been stated that the sediment will be returned to a depth below 1200m. That’s called the Bathypelagic zone (Midnight Zone) – and some animals who live there include viperfish, anglerfish, frill sharks, eels, and sperm whales. These would be among the first creatures to acquire a gill-full of gravel.
But furthermore, the floating particles could be carried throughout the entire water column by powerful currents in a natural process called ‘downwelling’ & ‘upwelling’ – damaging (perhaps fatally) the respiratory systems of billions of fish.
This, plus the impact that light & sound disturbances from mining equipment would have on creatures adapted to conditions of silence & darkness, raises the likelihood of ecosystem collapse. Ocean ecosystems are already threatened by multiple stressors like overfishing, ocean acidification, & plastic pollution – do we really want to add anything else to the list?
The Metals Company claims that seabed extraction is a more ‘sustainable’ method of sourcing metal than land-based mining. Whenever anyone pulls-out the ‘sustainability’ buzzword, two premises need to be addressed:
#1: what are they sustaining? – clearly not biodiversity.
#2: how long do they wish to sustain it for?
The answer to the first question: an industrial way of life. The way of life which propels us to greedily squander nature’s bounty.
The answer to the second question: for as long as there’s anything left of the living world to convert into commodities.
This isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about creating new technologies which will prolong & exacerbate the destruction of the planet, and a false narrative that this is all somehow morally justifiable. Here’s a basic rule: if we consume the Earth at a rate faster than it can regenerate – eventually there won’t be anything left to take. Even Gregory Stone (chief scientist at The Metals Company) acknowledges this:
“On-land commodities are being exhausted…and [the deep sea] is the natural next place to look…these are some of the last resources that the Earth has to give us”.
Are we really prepared to blow-through everything that’s left? To leave no stone (or nodule) left unturned, just so that we can continue driving around in cars & tooting our horns?
The ends don’t really justify the means. Any right-minded, white westerner can reflect upon the cruelty of the transatlantic slave trade and conclude: “Yikes, my ancestors should’ve left the people of West Africa alone”.
Jazz music probably wouldn’t have existed without the transatlantic slave trade. Do I like jazz music? Sure, but you know what I like better? Thriving communities living in environments to which they’re socially and biologically adapted.
Communities like the ocean-dwelling phytoplankton who generate 80% of the Earth’s oxygen, who play a crucial role in atmospheric carbon regulation, and whose future hangs in the balance should deep-sea mining go ahead.
So, what can we do to stop this from happening?
The country of Nauru, which (having signed a contract with The Metals Company) would stand to benefit financially from deep sea mining, have declared that operations will go ahead in 2024, within waters assigned to them by the ISA (International Seabed Authority) – that means we have about two years to stop this.
So far, campaigners such as Greenpeace, WWF, and the government of Fiji have collaborated on a proposed 10-year moratorium (temporary ban) on deep sea mining until more is known about its effects on deep sea ecosystems.
Going a step further, organisations like Blue Planet Society and Pacific Blue Line are calling for an outright ban.
You (the reader) can help by educating yourself more on the subject, by spreading awareness, by signing online petitions, and by joining or organizing demonstrations against deep sea mining…but before you go and do those things, let me finish with a final appeal:
As environmentalists, we might not instinctively care quite as much about the deep sea as we do about other landscapes like rainforests or prairies. We’re land mammals after all; we don’t belong down there, and neither should we strive to assimilate. However, it’s important that we look beyond our human bias, because the deep sea comprises 60% of Earth’s surface. This means that the wellbeing of the ocean is crucial for the wellbeing of the planet as a whole.
Industrialists can’t understand this. They look upon the deep sea as a challenge, as another frontier just waiting to be conquered, and none of the native beings who live there will stand in their way.
We can stand in their way.
Help to stop deep sea mining, before it starts.
Joshua Clinton is a long-term environmental devotee, campaign organizer, & freelance writer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.” ― Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt
Australian-Canadian mining firm OceanaGold was recently granted a renewal of its permit to mine gold and copper in the northern Philippines.
The mine has faced years of opposition from area residents, mostly Indigenous people, who say it has scarred their land and threatens the water systems they depend on.
In 2019, when the company’s previous mining permit expired, protesters mounted barricades to block activity at the mine.
This year, restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have hampered their ability to organize.
NUEVA VIZCAYA, Philippines – Community leader Eduardo Ananayo says he wept when heard the Philippine government had renewed its mining agreement with Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold Corporation this past July.
“We felt betrayed by the government who we thought was there to protect us. Why did they side with the foreigners instead of us Indigenous people?” asks the Tuwali elder, who leads the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA), one of several organizations protesting the gold and copper mining operation.
OceanaGold holds a “financial or technical assistance agreement” (FTAA) issued by the Philippine government, which allows a wholly foreign-owned mining company to operate in the country. Its previous permit expired in 2019. The successful renewal, which came despite persistent opposition from both residents and the local government, allows the mining firm to continue operations until 2044.
“That will not dampen our resistance,” Ananayo says. “We will not let all our years of struggle go to waste.” Around 4,000 indigenous people living in the villages of Didipio and Alimit, in Kasibu town, Nueva Vizcaya province, have mounted strong opposition to the mine: first against Arimco Mining Corporation, which obtained the initial mining rights in 1994, and then against OceanaGold, which acquired the FTAA in 2006.
OceanaGold’s mine claim spans 27,000 hectares (66,700 acres), straddling the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) northeast of the Philippine capital, Manila. The concession is believed to hold 1.41 million ounces of gold and 169,400 tons of copper, enough to keep the mine running for another two decades.
Opponents of the project say it threatens the local water system, which is critical to the community’s survival, to their agricultural livelihoods, and to the surrounding ecosystems.
Immense volumes of water are used to process mineral ores, leading to both water pollution and depletion. In addition, both open-pit and underground mining (which OceanaGold shifted to as of 2015) can disrupt the natural underground water systems that feed springs and creeks.
Protesters also decry what they say is the company’s disregard for the land rights of the Indigenous people, and the wide open-pit and abandoned untillable farmlands that they consider a permanent scarring of their natural landscape.
A history of resistance
Since the 1990s, Indigenous peoples in Didipio have resisted attempts to mine their lands.
The area was originally settled by the Indigenous Bugkalot, but was later occupied through peaceful agreements by the Tuwali and Ayangan of Ifugao province and the Kalanguya and Ibaloy of Benguet in the 1950s. This means that although they belong to recognized Indigenous communities, the residents are not regarded as ancestral domain holders. This precludes them from asserting the need for a free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process under the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.
With a semitemperate weather, Didipio was an ideal place for rice and vegetable agriculture because of the abundance of water coming from numerous springs and creeks from the forest, Ananayo says.
The Dinauyan and Surong rivers, which cut across the village, were not only abundant with fish but also nuggets of gold, which locals traditionally pan, Ananayo recalls. “After tending our farms, we would go pan for gold which we sell to buy other necessities.”
But in the early 2000s, OceanaGold pushed through with its operation, despite resistance from the community and the municipal and provincial government. To begin excavating its open-pit mine, OceanaGold demolished at least 187 houses in June 2008. According to a 2011 report by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutionally mandated body, this demolition was violent and was carried out without the legally required permits or relocation and compensation agreements. The evictions, the commission said, also amounted to a violation of the Indigenous community’s right to “manifest their culture and identity.”
“Some people were still cooking breakfast while others were still sleeping when Oceana [OceanaGold] bulldozed their houses,” recalls Myrna Duyan, also a resident of Didipio. Company security officers even shot a man for trying to save his neighbor’s house, she says.
Following its investigation, the CHR recommended the government “consider the probable withdrawal” of OceanaGold’s FTAA due to gross violations of human rights related to the 2008 demolition. But no official action was taken.
Instead, by 2013 OceanaGold had completely demolished Dinkidi Hill, inverting it into a vast open-pit mine. Since then, Duyan says, the water systems across Didipio started to recede significantly.
As of October 2021, Duyan says that at least a dozen water pumps and springs have dried up in the community immediately surrounding the mine, forcing residents to travel at least a mile (1.6 kilometers) to fetch water for household use.
Other residents have given up tracts of farmland, as there is not enough irrigation to sustain crops. Duyan says her own father was forced to abandon their farm in Upper Bakbakan, a district in Didipio, when water became totally scarce in 2017.
The area where the water is drying up is part of the headwaters of the Addalam River, a major tributary of the Cagayan River, the longest in the Philippines. The Addalam irrigates rice paddies in downstream Isabela and Cagayan provinces, known as the rice-producing heartland of the northern Philippines.
The proximity of the mine to the community is also worrisome, since the center of the open pit is just 1 km (0.6 mi) from the edge of the community. When OceanaGold conducts rock blasting underground, the earth trembles as if an earthquake happened, Ananayo says.
Cracks can be seen in the walls and floors of many houses, as well as the community school, which the villagers attribute to the blasting.
“With their continuing operations, this will surely worsen. Nearby communities should also expect losing their waters,” Ananayo says.
Gold panners have also been stopped from panning in their traditional spots, Duyan says. Even those far downstream of the mine have had to stop after experiencing skin irritation from the river water, a phenomenon they attribute to the chemicals seeping from OceanaGold’s tailings dam.
At one time, Ananayo says, the company hired a “military man” who destroyed the residents’ sluice boxes along the river and threatened to hurt those who planned to resume panning.
“They accuse us of stealing from them by panning, but this is our land! How can we steal something we own?” Ananayo says.
OceanaGold did not grant Mongabay’s request for an interview, and instead directed Mongabay via email to visit its website “for more information.”
Following the expiration of OceanaGold’s FTAA in June 2019, residents of Didipio set up “people’s barricades” along the gravel roads leading to both of the mine site’s entrances, halting the entry of OceanaGold’s fuel tankers and service vehicles.
Ananayo says they resorted to such means after numerous petitions and letters asking government agencies and national officials to intervene resulted in nothing. (The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is responsible for regulating mining, did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comments.)
The opposition became even more emboldened with Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla’s vocal support: “[OceanaGold] no longer have the right to operate,” Padilla told local media in July 2019. “If they have no right to the land, then they have no right to continue enriching themselves from the land.”
Ananayo says the barricades have been the site of altercations between villagers and workers trying to bring in fuel and other materials for the mine’s operations. Violence escalated on April 6, 2020, when three oil tankers escorted by at least 100 policemen forced their way into the mine site from the northeast road.
Residents immediately gathered to form a human barricade along the road. Some sat down, others lay down on the gravel road, and others still tried to go under the tanker trucks. But the police, armed with riot shields and sticks, beat the protesters and shoved them to the side of the road. Witnesses said other policemen stood guard with their heavy rifles.
Duyan was struck on her foot, resulting in the loss of her toenails, while Ananayo was hit in the face. Rolando Pulido, at the time the chair of DESAMA, was stripped down to his underwear, beaten, and detained overnight at the police station.
Trauma from the event has led other residents to “lie low” for fear of an even greater impunity, Duyan says. But she says she remains undeterred. “Of course, we fear for our lives, but we will not let it conquer us. God is watching over us.”
With the rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines this year, protesters abandoned their barricade posts in compliance with local health protocols and regulations. They even avoided holding physical meetings to avoid the risk of local transmission, Duyan says.
It was during this period, when lockdowns and economic distress hampered the community’s ability to organize, that OceanaGold’s contract was renewed. “We are already suffering a lot from the effects of COVID and they included yet another burden on top,” Duyan says.
Duyan says OceanaGold has taken advantage of the restrictions imposed by the government to curb the pandemic. With no hindrance, its vehicles can now freely go in and out of the mine site, Duyan says. Hundreds of people from outside Didipio also frequently enter the community to apply for jobs after the company posted announcements for job openings. “Now we also have health security issues, since each of those people could be carriers of COVID,” Duyan says.
COVID-19 restrictions have also halted consultations and visits from NGOs and advocacy groups who are helping the community in their struggle against the mine. Ananayo says the community relies heavily on organizations like the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center and Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) to provide pro bono assistance in legal actions and in understanding court and administrative processes.
“We’ve lost hope on government agencies because we have not seen them advocate our cause,” Ananayo says.
Information relayed to DESAMA by sympathetic OceanaGold employees indicates that the company will resume operations in December. This October, Duyan says, seven passenger vans loaded with blasting materials were seen entering the well-guarded mine compound.
Call for help
With general elections coming up in May 2022, Duyan says the stance of politicians on large-scale mining will decide whom they will campaign and vote for.
“We will use this election to vote officials who truly champion our cause and will help us stop Oceana’s operations,” she says.
Following the inaction of the government in response to the illegal demolition of houses in 2008 and the violent dispersal of protesters in April 2020, Ananayo says protesting residents feel that even state forces and government agencies have become instruments to further oppress them. OceanaGold, Ananyo adds, has become well-versed in burnishing its image outside Didipio, with many local news outlets portraying the company as a responsible miner.
Ananayo says the community needs any help they can muster, even from outside the country. “I hope people will notice our voices here in Didipio,” he says. “We settled here peacefully long before mining prospectors came. We will fight for our lands.”
Banner image: Eduardo Ananayo, leader of Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA). Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.