Editor’s Note: The Halmahera Island in Indonesia is the only known home to the Hongana Manyana tribe. Unfortunately, it is also the home to vast reserves of nickel. Mining companies are now evading the indigenous rights and ecological rights of the inhabitants of the island, as well as of the island herself, to steal the nickel. The nickel is going to be used for manufacturing electric cars. The following piece is taken from Survival International.
Nickel Mining Threatens Uncontacted Hongana Manyana Tribe in Indonesia
By Survival International
Guardians of their forest
The Hongana Manyawa – which means ‘People of the Forest’ in their own language – are one of the last nomadic hunter gatherer tribes in Indonesia, and many of them are uncontacted.
They have a profound reverence for their forest and everything in it: they believe that trees, like humans, possess souls and feelings. Rather than cut down trees to build houses, they make their dwellings from sticks and leaves. When forest products are used, rituals are performed to ask permission from the plants, and offerings are left out of respect.
The Hongana Manyawa root their whole lives to the forest, from birth to death. When a child is born, the family plant a tree in gratitude, and bury the umbilical cord underneath: the tree grows with the child, marking their age. At the end of their lives, their bodies are placed in the trees in a special area of the forest that is reserved for the spirits.
If there is no more forest, then there will be no more Hongana Manyawa.
Providing for themselves almost entirely from hunting and gathering, the Hongana Manyawa are nomadic; setting up home in one part of the forest before moving on and allowing it to regenerate. They have unrivalled expertise in the Halmahera rainforest, hunting wild boar, deer and other animals and maintaining a close connection with the sago trees – now threatened by deforestation from mining – which provide their main source of carbohydrate. They also have incredible medicinal knowledge and can treat many sicknesses with local plants, although this has become increasingly difficult following the new diseases brought by forced contact and resettlement in villages.
It’s more convenient for me to keep moving because the food is much more diverse and available, I can go hunting regularly. Permanently staying in the village is very uncomfortable and there is a lack of food.
Avoiding contact to stay alive
The arrival of the mining companies is just the latest threat to the Hongana Manyawa and their land. In recent decades, Indonesian governments have repeatedly tried to force contact onto the Hongana Manyawa, with the aim of stopping their nomadic way of life and evicting them from their ancestral forest home. They say this is to “civilize” them: they have tried to settle the Hongana Manyawa and have built Indonesian-style houses for them. The Hongana Manyawa say these new houses, with roofs made of metal sheets rather than palm leaves, made them feel “like animals in a cage”.
One Hongana Manyawa woman told Survival:
We are so happy living by the forest with different kinds of meat and food, where we can collect roof materials so we can replace the zinc roof the government has built for us.
As with uncontacted tribes the world over, forced contact has proved disastrous for the Hongana Manyawa. They were immediately exposed to diseases to which they had no immunity – from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, terrible outbreaks of diseases which the Hongana Manyawa refer to as “the plague” affected the newly-settled villages, leading to widespread suffering and even death.
We had many different diseases when first settled, some of the sickness led to deaths, some people had fever that went on for days and nights and endless coughing for days and even weeks.
The contacted Hongana Manyawa also serve as convenient scapegoats for the police, who frequently blame them for crimes they have had nothing to do with. Several of them have been imprisoned for murders they did not commit and have languished in jail for many years.
It’s better to live in the forest so we don’t get accused of these things. We feel unsafe and many of the men moved into the forest and then came to get their wives and families. Some are deep in the forest…they are deeply traumatized.
Far from being respected for their unique and self-sufficient ways of living, the Hongana Manyawa experience severe racism and are regularly described by Indonesian officials and the media as ‘primitive’. There is a widespread belief that they would benefit from ‘integration’ into wider society: a belief that comes with disastrous and deadly consequences.
Many Hongana Manyawa are now living in government-built villages. Many others – traumatised by the government’s forced settlement attempts, like other peoples around the world who have experienced forced contact – have returned to their forest.
The uncontacted Hongana Manyawa have made it clear time and time again that they do not want to settle or have outsiders coming into their forest. They are very much aware of the dangers – including fatal epidemics of disease – which forced contact brings. As with the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe of India, it is little wonder that they are defending their lands and shooting arrows at those who force their way in.
But now they face the threat not just of being forced out of the forest that sustains them, but of seeing it all destroyed by corporations rushing to provide a supposedly ‘sustainable’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle to people thousands of miles away.
‘Green’ mining threatens the lives of uncontacted tribal people
The greatest threat to the Hongana Manyawa today comes from a supposedly ‘green’ industry.
Their rainforest sits on lands rich in nickel, a metal increasingly sought after as an ingredient in the manufacture of electric car batteries. Indonesia is now the world’s largest producer of nickel, and Halmahera is estimated to contain some of the world’s largest unexploited nickel reserves. Nickel is not essential for these batteries, but now that the nickel market is booming, mining companies are homing in and tearing up huge swathes of rainforest.
The uncontacted Hongana Manyawa are on the run. Without their rainforest, they will not survive. These cars are marketed as ecofriendly alternatives to fossil fuel powered cars, but there is nothing ecofriendly about the way nickel is being mined in Halmahera.
It goes without saying that uncontacted tribes cannot give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to exploitation of their land – which is legally required for all ‘developments’ on Indigenous territories under international law.
Nevertheless, Weda Bay Nickel (WBN) – a company partly owned by French mining company Eramet – has an enormous mining concession on the island which overlaps with Hongana Manyawa territories. WBN began mining in 2019 and now operates the largest nickel mine in the world. Huge areas of rainforest which the Hongana Manyawa call home have already been destroyed. The company plans to ramp up the mining to many times its current rate and operate for up to 50 years.
If we don’t support the fight for their forest, my uncontacted relatives will just die. The forest is everything, it is their heart and life. My parents and siblings are in the forest and without support they will die. Everything in the forest is getting destroyed now – the river, the animals, it is gone.
The Indonesian government claims that nickel mining is “critical for clean energy technologies” yet coal-fired power stations are being constructed at IWIP to process the nickel. The International Energy Agency estimates that 19 metric tons of carbon are released for every metric ton of nickel smelted and there is evidence from a similar project in Sulawesi of this leading to respiratory diseases for locals. Not only is this mining (accompanied by roads, smelters and other huge industrial projects) devastating the Hongana Manyawa’s rainforests, it is also polluting the air and damaging the rivers. The processing of nickel is often highly toxic, involving a host of chemicals which produce almost two metric tons of toxic waste for every metric ton of ore processed.
Survival is fighting against false solutions to the climate crisis, which are destroying Indigenous lands and lives.
They are poisoning our water and making us feel like we are being slowly killed.
Eramet, Tesla and connected companies
International companies are involved, directly or indirectly, in the mining of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa land.
WBN is a joint venture between several companies, but French company Eramet is part-owner and responsible for the mining itself. Eramet prides itself on its environmental and human rights credentials, claiming that it will “set the standard” and “be a benchmark company” when it comes to human rights. Yet it continues to mine on the territory of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa.
Survival has learned that German chemical company BASF is also planning to partner with Eramet to build a refining complex in Halmahera and that a possible location for this may be on uncontacted Hongana Manyawa territory. This would be devastating for the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa in the area, who are already in hiding from mining.
Survival has been told that uncontacted Hongana Manyawa are now fleeing further and further into the rainforest, traumatized by the attacks on their forests and way of life.
Trees are gone and replaced with the big road, where giant machines go in and out making noise and driving the animals away.
Tesla, the world’s largest electric vehicle company, has signed contracts worth billions of US dollars to buy Indonesian nickel and cobalt for its batteries. Its CEO Elon Musk has also had high level negotiations with the Indonesian government to open an electric car battery factory in the country. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has even offered Tesla a ‘nickel mining concession.’
Tesla’s Indigenous rights policy states: “For all raw material extraction and processing used in Tesla products, we expect our mining industry suppliers to engage with legitimate representatives of indigenous communities and include the right to free and informed consent in their operations.”
Yet Tesla has now signed deals with Chinese companies Huayou Cobalt and CNGR Advanced Material, both of which have links to nickel mining in Halmahera. While supply chains are secretive and often obscure, Tesla’s interests in Indonesia and the scale of the planned mining in Halmahera make it possible that nickel mined from Halmahera could well end up in Tesla cars.
I do not give consent for them to take it…tell them that we do not want to give away our forest.
Demand for electric cars is driving the destruction of uncontacted people’s lands.
Rather than destroying yet more of the natural world, and the people who defend it, in the name of combating climate change, we should be supporting uncontacted tribes to defend their rainforests and their land rights; they are the guardians of the green lungs of the planet.
We the Hongana Manyawa, do not want a mining company to come, because it will destroy our forest. We will protect this forest as much as we can. If the forest is destroyed, where will we live?
Take Urgent Action for the Hongana Manyawa
The Hongana Manyawa are running out of forest and running out of time. They desperately need international support to stop the destruction of their homelands before it’s too late.
The Hongana Manyawa’s land rights must be recognised. Survival is calling for the declaration of an emergency zone for the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa. Around the world, Survival has successfully campaigned for the land rights of uncontacted tribes, defending them from outsiders bringing in deadly diseases and devastating development projects which could destroy them.
We are calling for:
– Eramet and the other companies mining in Halmahera, to immediately abide by international law and stop mining and other developments on the lands of uncontacted tribal people.
– Tesla and other car companies to publicly commit to ensure that none of the nickel or cobalt they buy ever comes from the lands of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa in Halmahera.
– The Indonesian government to establish an ‘Uncontacted Tribe No-Go Zone” to protect the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa and their territories.
With your support, the territories of the uncontacted Hongana Manyawa can be protected from mining so that they can continue to live as they choose on their own land.
I want to share my knowledge with my grandchildren and those who want to learn how to eat and live in the forest.
Please tell Tesla to pledge that none of the minerals they buy ever comes from the lands of uncontacted Indigenous people in Halmahera – and let the mining companies, and the Indonesian authorities, know you’ve done so.
Sign the pledge here: https://act.survivalinternational.org/page/124732/action/1
Photo by pisauikan on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: This is a short report-back from the Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting by Stephany Seay. Stephany Seay is a founder of Roam Free Nation.
By Stephany Seay/Roam Free Nation
Jaedin Medicine Elk and I traveled to Chico Hot Springs, MT, for the fall Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting, which took place on Halloween. Not exactly how we wanted to spend this holiday, but the buffalo come first. This is our report back to you.
We learned that the Montana State Vet (Dept. of Livestock), Marty Zaluski, has retired. The new state vet is Dr. Tahnee Szymanski. She is a native Montanan and a graduate from Oregon State University, a big agriculture school. To our knowledge, she may be the first female state vet for Montana. We hope she will be more gentle than the men before her.
We also learned that one of Yellowstone’s bison biologists, P.J. White, has retired.
There was much hoopla from the Montana Dept. of Livestock in regards to language the Park and other agencies wanted to strike from the Operations Plan in regards to vaccinating wild bison. In 2014, Yellowstone squashed the idea of vaccinating buffalo, because it doesn’t make sense on so many levels. It is domestic, invasive cattle who should be vaccinated, not wild buffalo. To date, there is no safe and effective brucellosis vaccine because former President George W. Bush placed brucella abortus on the Center for Disease Control’s bio-terror agent list. A foolish move that prevents scientists from working to find a vaccine that works. On cattle.
More urgently, Yellowstone released their summer bison population estimate. The Yellowstone buffalo population dropped by 2,000 in the last year. Mainly due to excessive treaty hunting. The Park reported that 60-70% of the population migrated into the Gardiner Basin (north edge of Yellowstone) where there was a record “harvest”, as we have previously reported.
Chris Geremiah, Yellowstone’s head buffalo biologist reported that the imperiled Central herd continues to decline. As he has for over five years now, he again recommended that no buffalo be hunted in the Hebgen Basin, on the west side of the Park. But, the hunters will not listen. The Central herd are the only buffalo who migrate into the Hebgen Basin, but they also migrate into the Gardiner Basin, being doubly impacted by “management” actions (hunting, slaughter, quarantine).
Astoundingly, he also recommended that hunters kill MORE females than bulls! The females are the matriarchs, the ones who teach the youth where to find the best grass, the best water, the safest lands and routes to get there. They are also the ones who carry in their wombs the next generation. As we stated in our public comments, killing the females is what destroys a nation.
Once again, they set no quota, meaning if we have a heavy winter like last year, it could be another free-for-all killing frenzy. Though they did suggest that no more than 1,100 should be taken, that’s only a suggestion that holds no weight. Buffalo advocates know that killing one is too many right now. These populations need federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. They must be allowed to recover and restore themselves on the lands that are their birthright, and ESA listing is the only thing that will give them the respite to do so. But, restraint and respect for these circumstances aren’t something that agencies or hunters really care about.
The MT. Dept. of Livestock appealed to treaty hunting tribes to actually help them by hazing with bullets, should buffalo approach or breach the so-called tolerance zones, beyond which, buffalo are currently not allowed. Once again, they want to use tribes to do their buffalo-killing dirty work.
In an interesting twist, some members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan began questioning what they were doing, why do they exist, what is their purpose in moving forward? They currently have no purpose other than to maintain the status quo and make the lives of the last wild buffalo one of unnecessary challenges and misery.
The public comment period actually came *before* lunch, this time. There were some really great words said on behalf of the buffalo. One person really stands out. Wendy, someone we’ve been in touch with since last winter. A Montana resident with a brilliant mind who knows exactly what’s going on. In her comments, she sang a version of “Home on the Range” that put the DOL to shame. It was brilliant. She had visual aids, some blown up photos of ours that really helped illustrate the travesty she was conveying. It was an honor and pleasure to meet her.
We have a bit of video footage to download, and we will soon be able to share ours and others comments with you. There were a couple of decent articles that came out, which you might like to read, the following being the most thorough. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, “Livestock Department, Yellowstone, Exchange Blows in Annual Bison Meeting“.
Winter is here now, and the deep snows are just around the corner. We need your support to be in the field, to stand in defense of our buffalo family. There is a lot of travel and lodging involved to keep us on the front lines, so please, do what you can to support our work in standing with the last wild buffalo. Thank you so much for loving wild buffalo!
Next week, November 9, we will travel to Bozeman to watch a public screening of Yellowstone Voice’s “A Path Forward for the American Bison” at the Museum of the Rockies. We will be part of a panel discussion after the documentary plays. We wish you all could be there with us. Trust that we will represent.
Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash
Editor’s note: The US military is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution in the world. It is through the allocation of over half the federal government budget that this is made possible. So when companies say that the destruction of the environment must be done to save the planet, this fact is never mentioned. We are in fact in an existential situation and yet ending the war machine is never on the table. The evil empire will do what it has always done, which is to extract the wealth of the land to the determinant of those that live there. And this will not end until it collapses. If we are to have anything left before this happens we must fight to save it.
By Katie Fite/Counterpunch
Critical Minerals Propaganda
In early summer, Vale BLM (Bureau of Land Management) held a Resource Advisory Council meeting in McDermitt, ground zero for the critical minerals rush on public lands. Lithium driller Jindalee HiTech got to talk about the company’s horrifying new exploration drilling proposal for 267 more drill holes, wastewater sumps, and 30 miles of new “temporary” roads. The project would tear rip apart irreplaceable Sage-grouse Focal habitat, as a prelude to open pit strip mining for lower grade lithium. The BLM geologist showed a video, How Critical Minerals are Vital to the Climate Fight, that had appeared on ABC news.
One narrator, Reed Blakemore, was from the Atlantic Council think tank known for never seeing a War or US-backed coup it wouldn’t propagandize and cheerlead for. The other narrator works for an organization called SAFE. Their mission appears to be strident propaganda shaping policies, perceptions and practices and support for wresting control of critical minerals and energy, no matter how unsafe it makes the world or how much environmental damage is caused. The two harangue viewers about the need to get “shovels in the ground”. It includes a clip of Biden bragging about the Defense Production Act.
SAFE’s Website boasts about working with retired 4 star generals. A scroll through their Twitter account shows them pushing for streamlining environmental analysis–like the type of NEPA and tribal consultation short-cuts which contributed to the Thacker Pass (Peehee mu’huh) controversy that rages on. SAFE screeches about mineral laundering by China, adores high voltage transmission lines, and my favorite: “SAFE believes the Biden admin must take an aggressive approach that raises strong walls around foreign entities of concern while lowering drawbridges for our allies, like South Korea”. And hurl pots of burning oil down on the enemies of Fortress America from the castle keep?
This energy transition and critical minerals crusade on public lands is very much about retaining a corporate iron grip on energy, and increasingly seems to be about feeding the Military Industrial Complex. Watching the video, it belatedly dawned on me that critical minerals and green energy Neocons are driving much of the agenda. It’s certainly neocolonialist, but with the added twist of the Neocon global control freaks, and no dissent is allowed. We’ll grab what we want, anywhere, no matter if we break it all apart, no restraints tolerated, and we and our friends will make a fortune. The McDermitt caldera encapsulates the clash between supposed clean energy and the dirty reality for public land, water, communities, biodiversity, and a sane path to sustainability and energy change.
The EV “revolution” is being carried out with the same mindset, hubris, lies, greed, propaganda and war mongering that plunged us ever deeper into the fossil fuels mess and Forever Wars. The public is being propagandized by the Atlantic Council, SAFE, and others to blindly accept the sacrifice of any place, anywhere – under claims of saving us from climate change (as we continue to guzzle energy without limits). It’s also about domination and empire. Just like with oil, they won’t be content with a “domestic supply”, and instead seek to control all of it. Leadership of big green groups often appears captured by these critical minerals and energy Neocons – witness those dead serious Sierra Club outreach e-mails with a tangle of high voltage transmission lines portraying NEPA short-cuts as a good thing.
War Contractor Bechtel Selected to Build the Thacker Pass Mine, Mine Costs Double
Environews provides a whirlwind summary of some 2023 Thacker Pass events. Lithium Americas contracted with Bechtel Mining and Metals for engineering, procurement and execution of the mine. Bechtel is an industrial contractor and war profiteer who reaped massive government contracts during our Forever Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve already signed a reconstruction agreement with Ukraine, a tad prematurely. They go way back, having built Hoover Dam and infrastructure for the Manhattan atomic bomb project at Hanford and elsewhere. Hanford plutonium was used in the nuclear bomb the US dropped on the people of Nagasaki Japan. To this day, Bechtel is involved in Forever Clean Up at nuclear facilities, including the most toxic place in America, and helping work on new nukes, keeping the gravy train going. The International Committee for Investigative Journalists summarized:
“Bechtel has been heavily involved in both commercial and military nuclear activities. These have included some of the most notable nuclear mishaps in U.S. history, from California’s San Onofre reactor installed backwards, to the botched clean up of Three Mile Island … Bechtel is finding ways to profit from the radioactive mess its projects have created.”
Regarding Bechtel’s endless Hanford work and profiteering Joshua Frank describes “they have a really bad track record and are well known for reaping the spoils of U.S. military ventures all over the globe. In October they had a test facility up and running that was going to do a run of vitrification for low-level radioactive waste. They basically had a ribbon cutting for this big machine and it ran for a week, then overheated, and they had to shut it down”.
Tribes consider this land to be a Traditional Cultural Property. Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Tribe submitted a Traditional Cultural Property Eligibility Statement, (Peehee mu’huh: A Living Monument to Numu History and Culture District. September 12, 1865 Thacker Pass Massacre Site) to the BLM. It seeks official Interior Department recognition. Now it’s reported that BLM is sitting on the document, and never transmitted it to the National Park Service who oversees National Historic Register sites. Meanwhile, site integrity is being obliterated. Time after time – in local, national and international media – elders and tribal members have said that lithium mining desecration and destruction at Thacker Pass is like digging up Arlington Cemetery.
A recent deluge of news articles, many appeared planted, hyped a geological study that largely rehashes long known geological information. This helps fuel speculation and increase political pressure on agencies to rubberstamp projects. Following weeks of media gushing about the overblown study, the Nevada Current exposes what’s going on:
“The study was funded by Lithium Americas, and includes research from Lithium Americas employee and shareholder, Thomas Benson”. He was the lead author, but most media stories skipped right over that inconvenient fact.
“John Hadder, the director of the Great Basin Resource Watch … said while the study may be helpful in pitching mining in the area, his organization has heard claims of “largest lithium deposit” from places around the world.
“I am concerned that this report will be used to advance more lithium mining in the region, and pressure the frontline peoples to accept mine plans,” said Hadder. “Regardless of how much lithium may be extractable, the sloppy permitting process that led to the Thacker Pass mine must not be duplicated. Indigenous ancestral lands that have cultural values must be protected, and Indigenous communities should have the right to say no”.
The publicity also bumped up Lithium Americas stock that had sagged a bit. And it seems there was another purpose, too. Lithium Americas is angling for a $1 billion DOE (Department of Energy) loan handout, the largest amount ever. The same outlets that hyped the geological paper are all agog, casting this as “an historic 1 billion”. Reuters now reports “Lithium Americas had raised its budget for the first phase of the Thacker Pass project to $2.27 billion, from $1.06 billion, reflecting changes to its production plans”. The loan is claimed to be 50 to 75% of the mine cost. Is this price explosion due to estimates of production linked to the hyped study, or is there a huge mine cost over-run right out of the starting gate? Lithium Americas did choose a contractor with long experience profiting off the US’s trillion-dollar foreign misadventures and nuclear mess. If the lithium mine gets this obscene DOE handout, will dollars evaporate, like four Hanford whistleblowers exposed:
“It is stunning that, for a decade, Bechtel and AECOM chose to line their corporate pockets by diverting important taxpayer funds from this critically essential effort,” Assistant US Attorney Joseph Harrington said in a news release …The case started after four whistleblowers came forward in 2016, telling federal prosecutors about alleged time-card fraud in which the companies billed the U. S. Department of Energy for work that was never completed. The companies hired hundreds of electricians, millwrights, pipefitters … to build the plant … and then over-charged for the workers even when those workers had no duties to perform …”.
The Department of Justice Press release on the Hanford deception is here. The time-card fraud involved DOE funds. Now DOE appears on the verge of lavishing a billion-dollar loan on Lithium Americas who uses this same contractor.
GM Thacker Pass Lithium in Ultium Batteries, GM and War Machines
GM is now implicated as a major player in Caldera lithium mania. In January 2023, GM announced it would invest $650 million in Lithium Americas and use Thacker Pass lithium for its Ultium batteries:
“Lithium carbonate from Thacker Pass will be used in GM’s proprietary Ultium battery cells. … GM is launching a broad portfolio of trucks, SUVs, luxury vehicles and light commercial vehicles using the Ultium Platform, including the GMC HUMMER EV Pickup and SUV, GMC Sierra EV, Cadillac LYRIQ, Cadillac CELESTIQ, Chevrolet Silverado EV, Chevrolet Blazer EV, Chevrolet Equinox EV, BrightDrop Zevo 400 and BrightDrop Zevo 600”.
But these aren’t the only GM vehicles using Ultium batteries. Clean Technica headlined, “The US military is buying Ultium Battery Packs from GM Defense”. Get ready for the Green Wars, folks, including the Green Wars for Green Minerals. Are wild and sacred places of the McDermitt Caldera going to be destroyed not only for bloated GM pick-ups, street Hummers and virtue signaling about the climate crisis, but also for War machines too — gutting the West for critical minerals so we can waste untold amounts of energy and minerals on more Forever Wars?
GM Defense proclaims it’s driving the future of military mobility, with a five-passenger All-Electric Military Concept Vehicle, and working on energy storage for the tactical warfighter. Ultium batteries are also used in armored diplomatic vehicles that look like a sure hit with narco kingpins. Other monstrosities like this tactical truck, don’t yet appear to have EV batteries, but GM does promise they’re fuel efficient. How long until US troops de-stabilizing South American countries to gain control of their lithium, or maneuvering to grab foreign oil, are cruising around in EVs? At the end of a Reno KTVN Channel 2 video full of land destruction images and lithium company spin, the reporter says “lithium is a hot commodity”. The lithium company’s spokesman replies “it’s essential for national security”. Note that lithium is also used in designs of some nuclear reactors and in the nuclear weapons industry.
GM Greenwashing, Thacker Pass Lithium, Social Injustice
A Mighty Earth report, GM Wants ‘Everybody In’ on Greenwashing, tells how GM’s human rights policy conflicts with its investment in Thacker Pass, how they’re building hulks while smaller cars sold may largely be from China, a continuing dirty supply chain, a poor score in indigenous rights protection, and how often GM makes commitments but doesn’t follow through. In the report, the People of Red Mountain Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu explain that “the entire landscape of the McDermitt caldera is sacred to Nevada, California and Oregon tribal nations”
The brutal 1865 US cavalry massacre of a Paiute camp at Thacker Pass was part of the memory-holed Snake War of Extermination. The massacre was not revealed by BLM in the mine EIS. During litigation, Tribes presented resounding evidence – US surveyor records, contemporaneous newspaper stories, and survivor Ox Sam’s own account from Big Bill Haywood’s Autobiography. The Biden-Haaland BLM brushed it all aside, to the anger and dismay of Tribes and many other people. The stalled Traditional Cultural Property document contains the records. Perhaps doling out a $1 billion loan for the destruction of an officially recognized massacre site might be a bridge too far, even for Jennifer Granholm’s DOE.
In spring 2023, the Ox Sam women’s protest camp was set up at Thacker Pass by a gaping water pipeline trench the company had ripped past sacred Sentinel Rock. The camp was raided after a protest action. Now Ox Sam descendants and white activists associated with the camp are being sued in a vile SLAPP suit: After getting hammered with lawsuits aimed at halting development of a lithium mine at Northern Nevada’s Thacker Pass, a Canadian-based mining company has turned the tables and is suing the mine’s protesters … the protesters and an attorney representing them counter that the lawsuit is similar to a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), aimed at intimidating and silencing their free speech”.
How’s that for upholding ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) principles, and the other social responsibility jargon Lithium Americas and the mob of Caldera miners use to lull investors?
Aurora Schemes of Yellowcake and Green Uranium
Aurora Energy Metals is trying to resurrect a uranium project long thought dead. Promotion videos show Greg Cochran, an Australian “uranium veteran” leading the Aurora charge. Before alighting in the Caldera, Cochran had been with Australian uranium miner Deep Yellow. Here’s Friends of the Earth Melbourne on Deep Yellow, “The Mulga Rock uranium project east of Kalgoorlie is now under the leadership of a team with a track record of over-promising, under-performing and literally blowing up cultural sites”. And this from the Conservation Council of WA (West Australia),“We’ve gone from the inexperienced and cash-poor Vimy Resources to Deep Yellow who are led by a team with a track record that highlights why uranium mining does not have a social license”.
Aurora drilled a few exploration holes in fall 2022 extended a bit of drilling into a winter exclusion period. Now they seek to expand drilling under a NEPA-less, no public comment Notice, which is how the Jindalee sagebrush killing drilling to date has been done.
Aurora’s mining scheme, where some lower grade lithium overlays uranium deposits, is explained in a Proactive Investors video. Cochran envisions the mine of the future with a conveyor belt or pipeline jetting lithium or uranium slurry or crushed rock from Oregon across the state line down onto private land in Nevada, where a processing plant and waste heaps would be located. The video interviewer asks: “Tell me more about this property you bought in Nevada”. Cochran replies:
“Yeah, we kept that under wraps for quite a while because we wanted to make sure that nobody else kind of gazumped us. … We had this strategy of identifying suitable locations within Nevada for the processing plant … because… we know that they understand mining a lot better than Oregon … Nothing is a free pass, but it would allow us, we believe, to permit quicker. Private land to boot is even more attractive. … We discovered that one of the landowners was looking to sell. So, right place, right time. I’m already … envisioning … the mine of the future. Where you develop this mine. You’ve got a crusher, you run a very fancy overland conveyor – or pipeline for that matter – across to Nevada which as the crow flies it’s only 8 or 9 k’s – so there’s no tracking, no footprint … negligible CO2 emissions …’.
He says the Aurora project would be ticking all the boxes in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) approval – right after detailing a plan to evade Oregon regulations on uranium pollution by moving the hot rocks across the state line. Apparently, radioactive material infiltrating air, groundwater, plants, wildlife, and contaminating the community, doesn’t count when you’re ticking ESG boxes. The same plan is repeated in a Mining Network video here, with Cochran talking about Nevada land enabling Aurora to “permit a quarry in Oregon”, which he describes as fairly straightforward, while siting the processing plant and waste heaps in Nevada. In a Thacker Pass state permitting meeting, Nevada Department of Environmental Quality staff admitted they couldn’t recall not permitting a mine.
Aurora’s Nevada land is around 4 miles west of town, right by the state line south of where the Disaster Peak county road starts. In an Australian publication, Aurora, described as a “shining light”, says that because there’s some hydropower at the site “we have the potential to deliver green uranium”, in a “uranium friendly mining jurisdiction”. Welcome to Nevada – the Uranium Waste Heap State. No Rocks Too Hot to Handle. You can already envision more billboards sprouting up on Highway 95.
A past effort to wrest uranium from Caldera earth fizzled when Fukushima grayed up the miner’s blue sky on uranium. Back then, Oregon mining activist Larry Tuttle warned in Read the Dirt about yellowcake production, water use, the toxic waste stream, tailings ponds and Oregon’s very own Lucky Lass superfund site experience near Lakeview:
“Sulfuric acid in the tailings also dissolves and leaches heavy metals – mercury, molybdenum, arsenic, lead, manganese, and cadmium – as well as uranium. (The Aurora site has already been extensively mined for mercury, which pose additional health perils; sulfuric acid easily bonds with and transports mercury to waterways.) Residual uranium elements in the tailings decay and release radon; heavy metals also continue to interact within tailings and other wastes.
For communities as diverse as Moab, Utah, and Jeffrey City, Wyoming (often called yellowcake towns), the effects of uranium mining on public services and resources; ground and surface water; and, air quality are serious and dramatic”.
The Moab Times just reported on resistance to uranium mining and processing at the La Sal Complex near Moab and the Pinyon Plain mine near the Grand Canyon, in “Ute Mountain Utes march against White Mesa as Energy Fuels prepares to reopen uranium mines”:
“Some White Mesa residents have long been concerned that the mill, which lies four miles north of the community, is contaminating nearby groundwater, air and wildlife with radon that allegedly blows and seeps off the mill’s tailings impoundments”.
While uranium miners attempt to tamp down dangers, Ute tribal members monitoring past mining effects have measured whopping levels of uranium in spring water, there’s a sulfur odor in the air with re-processing taking place, and animals are disappearing from the mesa. For the record, uranium was recently shifted from the critical minerals list, and is now a fuel mineral with friends in Congress. Caldera uranium is found in uraninite and coffinite ore. No, someone didn’t have a morbid sense of humor, it’s said to be named after a geologist.
Trying to track the serial land destroyers and speculators who’ve descended on the Caldera is quite confusing. It’s unclear who now controls FMS claims. On-line sources show conflicting information. An Aurora prospectus said they control Oregon FMS “CALD” claims. A company named Chariot now appears involved with Oregon and Nevada FMS claims – all located in terrible places for wildlife. Lithium Americas holds a north-south block of claims in extremely sensitive wildlife habitat up in the Montana Mountains. They repeatedly told the public during the Thacker Pass EIS process that the project was sited to avoid those Sage-grouse conflicts, and that they wouldn’t mine up there because wildlife values were so high.
Puzzlingly, a 2016 SEC Report map shows Lithium Americas then controlling much of the current Jindalee claims block in “Miller” [Malheur] county. Why would they let go of Oregon claims while gearing up for Thacker? FMS Nevada claims lie in critical sagebrush by the east face of the Montanas. LiVE, another company, also has some Nevada claims. This month, there were mining press articles and a video about Jindalee drilling again this November. I contacted Vale BLM, and BLM says No. If you’re out in the Caldera, keep your eyes on what’s going on.
Jim Jeffress, a retired NDOW biologist (so he can speak his mind) describes how ideal for Sage-grouse Caldera lands are. He says what happens in the Montana Mountains with key sage grouse habitat “will define the resolve of the state of Nevada and BLM in the recovery of Sage-grouse in Nevada”. He extols the high bird abundance, the ideal habitat configuration, calls the Montanas exceptionally important, the gold standard for Sage-grouse, and a critical bridge between populations, writing:
“My primary concern is focused on ANY mine site or extraction areas on top of the Montana Mountains in the area commonly referred to as Lone Willow, now or in the future. That concern extends into Jordan Meadows in the east that serves as wintering grounds for the Montana Mountains sage-grouse population and those in southern Oregon”.
The Caldera is a unique inter-connected ecosystem, spanning Nevada and Oregon, with irreplaceable habitat for Sage-grouse and other wildlife. It must be protected from a mad, rapacious minerals rush.
Photo Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu in prayer at Peehee Mu’huh from Protect Thacker Pass website
Environmental Advocates and Groups To Protest Latest Proposed Algonquin Pipeline Expansion Near Shuttered Indian Point Nuclear Plant
On Tuesday, activists will rally outside the shuttered Indian Point nuclear plant in Buchanan in protest of the latest proposed Algonquin Pipeline Expansion in the area. The protest will occur blocks from where, in 2016, three activists were arrested for blocking the last Algonquin Pipeline expansion of an added 42-inch high-pressure pipeline. In addition, two older 32-inch and 23-inch pipelines run underneath the plant. Decommissioning at Indian Point houses over 2,000 tons of irradiated fuel rods in addition to other radioactive waste.
Protestors will call on Governor Hochul to stop pipeline owner Enbridge’s latest “Project Maple” proposal. Project Maple was noticed by Enbridge HERE.
WHAT: Rally calling on Governor Hochul to stop Enbridge’s “Project Maple” fracked gas pipeline expansion
WHEN: Tuesday, November 14 at 4:30pm ET
WHERE: Outside the shuttered Indian Point nuclear plant on the corner of Bleakley Ave & Broadway in Buchanan, NY
WHO: Activists representing Food & Water Watch, United for Clean Energy, Safe Energy Rights Group, and more
SIGN-UP HERE: https://www.mobilize.us/fww/event/592008/
“Project Maple” would significantly expand the amount of gas transmitted through the Algonquin Pipeline which runs from the Hudson Valley through Connecticut to Massachusetts. Enbridge anticipates its proposal to come on line as soon as November 2029.
The proposal to expand fracked gas in the region comes despite New York’s Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act which mandates greenhouse gas emissions reductions of at least 85 percent by 2050 and the state’s nation leading ban on fossil fuels in new buildings, which will go into effect in 2026.
Editor’s note: As we see in this article, published on 10/24/2023 by Investigate Europe you can find on their website www.investigate-europe.eu, the European Union abandons it’s own environmental standards when it comes to pursuing geopolitical interests in remote places.
In July of 2023 the European Parliament voted for the EU restoration law so that a part of the 80 percent of natural habitats already damaged can be rewilded. But the implementation of this law can only make an impact if Europe decreases it’s use of metals and minerals from mining, outside and inside of it’s borders.
With importing “critical” metals from Russia the EU supports a war that displaces millions of people and harms wild habitats. These double standards, imposing sanctions on Moscow yet at the same time profiting off of the rich “resources” Russia provides, shows how modern societies work: governments and industries must firstly attend upon their high energy demand, ethical and environmental standards are at the bottom of the list.
Could it be the reason for this is not in spite of a defence against the attacker but because of it: The land of the enemy should be used to the benefit of the one who is in the “right” until it is drained of it’s “resources”. Like an outlawed person bereaved of rights and dignity. This dangerous attitude unfolds in front of our eyes: a competition where the living planet can only loose.
By Pascal Hansens, Sigrid Melchior, Maxense Peigné, Harald Schumann / Investigate Europe
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the 27 EU countries have adopted 11 sanction packages, targeting raw materials including oil, coal, steel and timber. But minerals that the EU considers as “critical” raw materials – 34 in total – still flow freely from Russia to Europe in vast quantities, providing crucial funds to state enterprises and oligarch-owned businesses.
While some of its western allies have targeted Russia’s mining sector – the UK recently banned Russian copper, aluminium and nickel – the EU has continued its imports. Airbus and other European companies are still buying titanium, nickel, and other commodities from firms close to the Kremlin more than a year after the invasion, Investigate Europe can reveal.
Between March 2022 and July this year, Europe imported €13.7 billion worth of critical raw materials from Russia, data from Eurostat and the EU’s Joint Research Centre shows. More than €3.7 billion arrived between January and July 2023, including €1.2 billion of nickel. The European Policy Centre estimates that up to 90 per cent of some types of nickel used in Europe comes from Russian suppliers.
“Why are critical raw materials not banned? Because they are critical, right. Let’s be honest,” the EU’s special envoy for sanctions, David O’Sullivan, pithily said at a September conference.
The Union is desperate for critical raw materials to achieve its aim of climate neutrality by 2050. These commodities are crucial for electronics, solar panels and electric cars, but also for traditional industries like aerospace and defence. Yet they are all too often in scarce supply, unevenly available across the globe, and in high demand.
“The war in Ukraine has clearly shown the willingness of Russia to weaponise the supply of key resources. As Europeans, we cannot tolerate that,” says Henrike Hahn, a German Green MEP working on the new Critical Raw Materials Act.
Europe’s imports not only fund Russia’s war economy, but also benefit Kremlin-backed oligarchs and state companies. Although the EU has targeted some shareholders, Russia’s mining businesses have faced no restrictions. The loophole is even more glaring that the US and the UK sanctioned several firms directly, further isolating the EU in its double standards.
Analysis of Russian customs data shows that Vsmpo-Avisma, the world’s largest titanium producer, sold at least $308 million of titanium into the EU via its German and UK branches between February 2022 and July 2023. It is part-owned by Russia’s national defence conglomerate, Rostec. The two companies share the same chairman: Sergei Chemezov, a close Putin ally. The pair were KGB officers in East Germany in the 1980s.
Both Chemezov and Rostec are under EU sanctions and helped supply tanks and weapons to the Russian army. Brussels has not sanctioned Vsmpo-Avisma directly, but the US did ban exports to the firm on 27 September, saying it was “directly involved in producing and manufacturing titanium and metal products for the Russian military and security services.”
Among Vsmpo-Avisma’s largest European customers is Airbus, the aerospace giant partly owned by the French, German and Spanish states. Between the start of the war and March 2023, Airbus imported at least $22.8 million worth of titanium from Russia; a fourfold increase in value and tonnes compared to the previous 13 months.
From 14 March 2023, Vsmpo-Avisma stopped identifying buyers in customs filings but nothing indicates a significant change in trends. Titanium imports to France only slightly decreased between then and July 2023, and Airbus still listed the company as a supplier in July.
“We have no comment on the details and evolution of our titanium sourcing volumes,” an Airbus spokesperson said. “Generally speaking, Airbus is currently ramping up commercial aircraft production and this is having a mechanical impact on its overall procurement volumes.” Even though it will take time, the group is reducing its dependency on Russia, the spokesperson said, adding that a ban on Russian titanium for civil aviation would “encourage the Russian industry to focus on defence needs.”
Unlike Vsmpo-Avisma, other Russian companies have avoided naming their buyers in customs filings altogether. Yet the data still gives a scale of their fruitful relationship with the west. Nornickel, the world leader in palladium and high-grade nickel, exported $7.6 billion worth of nickel and copper into the EU via Finnish and Swiss subsidiaries between the start of the war and July 2023. It also sent over $3 billion of palladium, platinum and rhodium into Zurich airport. In 2022, almost 50 per cent of Nornickel’s sales went to Europe. Brussels has not sanctioned the group nor its chairman and largest shareholder, Vladimir Potanin, an oligarch and former deputy prime minister under US and UK sanctions.
Aluminium giant Rusal also uses tax havens to funnel minerals to Europe, where it owns the EU’s largest alumina refinery in Ireland and a smelter in Sweden. Its Jersey and Swiss-based trading houses brought at least $2.6 billion of aluminium into the bloc in the 16 months following the invasion of Ukraine. In August 2023, Rusal said Europe still accounted for a third of its revenues. Rusal’s main shareholder is oligarch Oleg Deripaska, sanctioned by the EU and its western partners.
Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International says it does not make sense that the sector has avoided sanctions given the known links.
“They are part of the system and fueling Putin’s war,” says senior policy officer Roland Papp. “So it’s perfectly logical to ban those critical raw materials from Russia, as we did for other sectors and goods.”
Since the start of the war, other European buyers of Russian metals have included Germany’s GGP Metal Powder ($66 million of copper), French arms-maker Safran ($25 million of titanium) and Greece’s Elval Halcor ($13 million of aluminium). Dutch logistics firm C. Steinweg also handled at least $100 million of various critical metals on behalf of its customers.
Safran confirmed they are still buying titanium from Vsmpo-Avismo but are working to reduce their Russia purchases. GGP Metal Powder said “there is no real alternative to our supplier from Russia“. C. Steinweg said they follow all rules and sanctions. Elval Halcor, Vsmpo-Avisma, Rusal and Nornickel did not reply to requests for comment.
At the start of the war, Europe was relying on Russian producers for 30 per cent of its nickel, 35 per cent of its alumina and 15 per cent of its aluminium, according to an internal memo by trade body Eurometaux seen by IE. Russia accounted for 41 per cent of the world’s palladium production, and up to 25 per cent of its vanadium output.
“Russia occupies a large part of Eurasia – it possesses a big part of the strategic reserves of critical raw materials, on par with China,” says Oleg Savytskyi from Razom We Stand, a Ukrainian NGO. Moreover, “the low density of the population, authoritarian control and practical absence of environmental and human rights protections made investments in the mining of Russia’s resources terribly attractive,” he adds.
The EU’s crippling dependency should have been curbed earlier, argues Transparency International’s Papp. “We’ve had enough time to react. The annexation of Crimea dates back to 2014, the invasion of Georgia even dates back to 2008 15 years ago! And what have we done? We’ve increased our dependence on Russia. It was an absolute and serious mistake.”
A Polish diplomat said Poland has pressed the EU to “decouple completely” from Russia in several areas, “but for the sake of unity and efficiency in adopting new sanctions packages we have agreed to postpone particular measures until further discussion.”
As EU sanctions require unanimity among all member states, divergent national economic interests can often water down packages. When the ninth set of sanctions banned fresh investments in Russia’s mining sector in December 2022, it included an exemption to invest in some mining activities for some critical raw materials. As a result, European companies can still pour cash into Russian mines to extract nickel, titanium and other key metals.
The European Commission won’t publicly comment on whether or not it has proposed a ban on critical raw materials. One reason could be that “sanctions are carefully designed to hit their targets while preserving EU interests,“ an EU source told IE.
Weaning the EU off Russia’s critical and strategic materials will be difficult. Replacing suppliers and forging new international partnerships is an arduous process. Finding a raw material, such as titanium or copper, with a similar quality and price of those from Russia is also a challenge.
Imposing tariffs or severing ties too quickly could lead to a global price surge which would harm European buyers while benefiting Moscow. A ban could also prompt India, Iran, and China to intensify purchases, further depleting critical raw material resources for EU industries.
Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics, says a ban would be difficult to implement given global demand challenges and Europe’s reliance on Russia. “Overall, with these specific materials, the monetary value of what Russia would lose from the EU import ban, might be smaller than the effect on the EU production,” says Ukraine’s former trade and economic development minister.
UN trading data shows that while EU imports of Russian copper, nickel and aluminium imports have declined in the past two years, nickel and aluminium revenues remained stable. Russia’s nickel sales to the EU were worth $1 billion in the first half of 2021 and were $1.1 billion two years later.
The Union is now trying to reduce its dependency. In March, the European Commission presented its Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), a new legislation aimed at reducing EU dependency on third countries for critical raw materials.
“War in Europe is a risk which was not present in the last decades and Russia was known as a reliable supplier,” says German MEP Hildegard Bentele, shadow rapporteur on the CRMA at the European Parliament. “The EU should take immediate action to support European companies to decrease and replace their CRM deliveries from Russia as soon as possible.”
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is expected to propose a 12th package of sanctions in the coming weeks, which will be then discussed by member states. Brussels hopes the package will renew pressure on the Russian economy and sap its fighting strength on the battlefields of Ukraine. Restrictions on critical raw materials does not seem to be on the table.
Editor at IE: Chris Matthews
Featured image: Leonid Andronov via Canva.com
Editor’s Note: With the increase in offshore wind energy surveys, the number of stranded North Atlantic Right Whales on East Coast beaches has also increased. Right Whales were declared as a critically endangered species by the US National Oceanographic and Administrative Administration (NOAA) in 2020. Survey and construction for offshore wind requires sonar to inform about the condition of the seabed where the wind turbines are supposed to be embedded. Right whales depend of whale calls to maintain contact with each other, gather to feed and to find mates. The oceanic noise pollution caused by the sonar disrupts all of this.
Save Right Whales Coalition is comprised of environmental and community organizations, scientists, and conservationists working to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and other marine life from the industrialization of their ocean habitat through large-scale offshore wind energy development across the eastern seaboard. The following piece is a compilation of a press release and an open letter to the public. Both of these were taken from the Save Right Whales website.
Whale Conservation Group Calls on NOAA to Halt All Offshore Wind Sonar Surveys After Discovering Mitigations are Ineffective
Contact: Lisa Linowes
Report finds marine mammals are being exposed to much louder noise levels than NOAA has stated which could be the cause for whale deaths
September 11, 2023 – An investigation into recent whale deaths in the Atlantic has found that the noise produced by offshore wind sonar activities is much louder than NOAA Fisheries’ National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has reported. Consequently, the setback distances adopted by NMFS to protect ocean life from the noise are too short and place whales and other marine mammals at a high risk of encountering harmful levels.
The Save Right Whales Coalition (SRWC), a group of long-time environmental activists dedicated to protecting the critically-endangered North Atlantic right whale from the industrialization of its ocean habitat, issued this letter to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad exposing the problem. According to the letter, “inadequate mitigations during a sonar survey could result in marine mammals experiencing sound levels that may injure or kill.” Since the only mitigation for sonar noise is distance, the shortened distances enforced by NMFS have “rendered any expected mitigations useless.”
SRWC’s finding is supported by a sound study conducted by Rand Acoustics, LLC, a leading acoustics firm in Maine. Earlier this year, Rand captured actual high decibel noise levels at a wind survey site approximately 43 nautical miles east of Barnegat Light, NJ. Rand found that the frequency and sound power levels he recorded did not match the equipment NMFS and the project sponsor said would be used. Rand’s data show the noise emitted from the sonar was much louder. This finding prompted a comprehensive review of the incidental harassment authorizations (IHAs) issued by NMFS which revealed a regular pattern of NMFS applying mitigations based on quieter sonar devices than those actually in use.
“In our review, we found that NMFS simply accepted the sonar sound levels provided by the wind developers without independently validating these levels,” said Lisa Linowes, a co-founder of SRWC. She warned that all mitigations relating to sonar noise in the IHAs are predicated on the loudness of the sonar devices. Underestimating the actual noise level of sonar used by survey boats would lead to the specification of shorter ‘safe’ distances from marine mammals than were necessary for their protection. The setback distances also play a key role in calculating the number of marine mammal ‘takes’ NMFS authorized for the sonar activity. “Had NMFS applied the correct sonar sound levels when issuing the IHAs, the number of takes would have been materially greater,” Linowes said.
This finding suggests that there has been a complete breakdown in the system designed to protect marine wildlife and protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction. SRWC has requested emergency action by NMFS and BOEM to address this matter beginning with the immediate revocation of IHAs now active.
The SRWC letter sent to NOAA can be found at this link.
The investigations of SRWC and Rand Acoustics, LLC are featured in the powerful new documentary released by Michael Shellenberger’s PUBLIC titled Thrown to the Wind. The film can be viewed at this link.
Whistleblower Speaks Out: Offshore Wind Will Drive Whales to Extinction
Dear Fellow Concerned Members of the Public,
The critically-endangered North Atlantic right whale, one of the most imperiled mammals in the world, seemed until just a few years ago to be on a path to recovery. It was our nation’s energy policy in the 18th century to kill the right whales for their oil, but the species was recovering after the 1982 ban on whaling took effect.
Today, the whale is in more danger than ever. An “unusual mortality event” beginning in 2017 has reduced the population by 30 percent. The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium’s October 2022 count estimates that only 340 individuals survive, with fewer than 70 breeding females and an overall decline in body size. Major sources of stress today include fishing gear entanglements, vehicle collisions, and climate change.
But one source of danger to the right whale is rarely discussed: the industrialization of their habitat by offshore wind companies, enabled by two government agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The head of New England Aquarium’s whale impact monitoring program has openly stated that the first offshore wind projects will serve as a “test bed” to study their impacts on the whale.
A recently-surfaced letter from a whistleblower indicates that BOEM and NOAA were aware in May 2022 that offshore wind construction and operation posed a direct danger to the North Atlantic right whale.
The author, NOAA’s own Chief of Endangered Species, Dr. Sean Hayes, bravely sounded the alarm, noting that not only the construction but also the operation of wind turbines could result in extinction.
Yet these agencies have failed to put in place any meaningful measures to protect this critically endangered species from extinction.
By NOAA Fisheries’ own admission, “The potential biological removal (PBR) level for the species, defined as the maximum number of animals that can be removed annually while allowing the stock to reach or maintain its optimal sustainable population level, is less than 1.” In plain language, this means the death of a single whale could make the difference between extinction and recovery.
Recent data collection finds the whales are increasingly relying on the southern Massachusetts wind lease area as a last refuge for foraging and raising their young. Because the federally-designated critical right whale habitat is out of date, these very same areas have been approved by the federal government for industrialization by offshore wind companies.
For a long time it was unclear what effects the plants’ construction and operation might have on whales. Several groups including our coalition raised the alarm and called for a moratorium until more studies could be conducted.
In response to these concerns, NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in October this year released a draft joint strategy to “to protect and promote the recovery of North Atlantic right whales while responsibly developing offshore wind energy.” But this strategy is misleading – the authors frame their plan to meet their obligations under the Endangered Species Act as a mere “vision,” and there is little evidence that the proposed mitigation measures are effective, practicable or backed up by sufficient funds.
Our coalition’s public comments can be found here.
In order for the development of the projects to go forward, an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) must be issued by NOAA when a federally listed marine mammal may be harmed. The issuance of an IHA requires that it is possible to fully mitigate the effects of any harassment, and from Hayes’ letter it is clear that this is not the case.
Hayes’ letter stresses that the presence of wind turbines would disrupt the dense populations of zooplankton that right whales rely on for food. Hayes describes the wind lease area as “the only known winter foraging area for right whales” and warns against the impacts not only from construction but also from the expected 30-year operation of offshore wind turbines on foraging grounds, which could “vary from hundreds of meters for local individual turbine impacts…to large-scale dipoles of surface elevation changes stretching hundreds of kilometers.”
Most damningly, he states, “impacts from installed and operating turbines cannot be mitigated for the 30-year lifespan of the project, unless they are decommissioned.”
A lawyer from the Conservation Law Foundation, an organization that is “strongly supportive of offshore wind,” acknowledged that the area slated for wind development was poorly surveyed for right whales prior to the permitting agencies selling 1,400 square miles of our federal waters to foreign wind energy companies.
NOAA and BOEM’s draft mitigation plan fails to address Hayes’ concerns. Additionally, it is interesting that the letter was not made available to the public until November when a local newspaper, the New Bedford Light, accessed it through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Hayes has risked his career and reputation by writing a letter of this seriousness. The international offshore wind industry is estimated to be worth $31.2 billion. Major conservation organizations, including the New England Aquarium and the Environmental League of Massachusetts, receive funding and sponsorships from offshore wind companies. Not to mention the weight of the Biden-Harris’s administration’s pro-offshore wind policy, backed by numerous large government agencies.
But evidence continues to mount. On November 24th, scientists published stronger evidence indicating that offshore wind operations “can have a substantial impact on the structuring of coastal marine ecosystems,” with effects far beyond the area of the turbines themselves.
With fewer than 350 North Atlantic right whales alive today, we must heed the science and call on the government to fulfill its obligations. The first large-scale offshore wind projects cannot serve as test beds to determine the impacts of turbines on a critically endangered species. And while climate change is an imperative, it is indefensible for any industrial project to push a species to extinction.
It was our own whaling industry that pushed the right whale to the brink. Today, our energy industry seems to be repeating its mistakes.
With this in mind, we are no longer calling for a moratorium. We are calling for the project to be canceled outright.
It is unacceptable for the government to allow large-scale industrial experiments in critical habitat for a species on the brink of extinction. The construction of industrial wind projects in any North Atlantic right whale habitat is, at this point, a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The Save Right Whales Coalition
Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: Since the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, states and corporations alike have relied on the assumption that energy companies can be persuaded to rethink their business and initiate a transition process towards “renewable” energy and engagement in the “green” economy. That reliance has only increased since the climate talks in Paris in 2015.
Carbon trading and REDD+ are only some examples. In this scheme, every country gets a quota of carbon emissions. Heavily industrialized countries, instead of trying to meet the quota, can pay to exceed the quota. This fund is then used to reimburse less industrialized countries who emit less carbon than their quota.
In other words, they get paid to not deforest. While it may seem like a win-win situation, it is difficult to justify how this scheme actually helps reduce carbon emissions. This article from 15th September 2023 highlights some of the problems with the carbon credit system.
By Jessica Corbett/Common Dreams
Echoing previous warnings from climate advocates and studies, an environmental watchdog on Friday released research from experts at the University of California which shows that trying to offset fossil fuel emissions with popular forest carbon credit projects “is a pipe dream.”
As the new Berkeley Carbon Trading Project assessment—funded by Carbon Market Watch (CMW)—explains, “The voluntary carbon market generates credits, each nominally equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide reduced or removed from the atmosphere, from a wide range of projects around the globe.”
Carbon credits don’t stop deforestation
Critics have long argued that carbon credit schemes are “false solutions” that harm poor communities where such projects are based and enable companies worldwide to greenwash their polluting activity rather than implementing reforms or investing in action to actually combat deforestation and the climate emergency.
“Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is the project type that has the most credits on the voluntary carbon market—about a quarter of all credits to date,” the assessment details. “These projects pay governments, organizations, communities, and individuals in forest landscapes (primarily tropical ones in the Global South) for activities that preserve forests and avoid forest-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
Over the past two decades, more than $3 billion has been poured into REDD+ and nearly half a billion carbon credits have been awarded, yet “deforestation is still continuing at an alarming rate,” the report notes. Berkeley researchers’ analysis of four methodologies that have generated almost all REDD+ credits—under Verra, the largest voluntary carbon market registry—revealed that estimated GHG emissions reductions were dramatically exaggerated.
“We found significant over-crediting from all of the factors we reviewed, the core causes of which are a combination of incentives and uncertainty,” said Barbara Haya, who led the research. “Everyone involved in the voluntary carbon market, from the buyers and sellers of credits, to the registries who write the rules and the auditors who enforce them, all benefit from more credits.”
“Large uncertainty in climate benefit calculations creates many opportunities for market participants to choose assumptions that inflate credits issued,” Haya added. “Drawing on all evidence, we conclude that REDD+ is ill-suited for carbon offsetting.”
As a CMW briefing published with the assessment summarizes:
- Project baselines are significantly overestimated, the research found, leading to the creation of carbon credits that represent imaginary emission reductions.
- Similarly, leakage is systematically underestimated by projects, which make use of flexibilities provided to them by the methodologies to downplay the risk of deforestation moving to areas outside of their project.
- The creation of low-quality carbon credits is further fueled by exaggerated estimates of the quantity of carbon stored within the trees that are protected by projects.
- The risk that the trees protected by REDD+ projects will die in the future is also drastically underestimated by projects, which again use methodological flexibility to misrepresent the real deforestation threat that forests will face in the future.
- Finally, the safeguards implemented by Verra are weak, do not protect communities from harm, and are not properly upheld by the validation and verification bodies.
Business over conservation projects
Verra released a lengthy response to the new assessment, which welcomed “the insight of the broader scientific and environmental community into our work on nature-based solutions,” but also said that “it is important to note that the vast majority of findings and recommendations from this research align with extensive and systematic work to update the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program that Verra has carried out over the last two years.”
Inigo Wyburd, a CMW policy expert on global carbon markets, said that “we welcome Verra’s willingness to engage with our research and hope that it will take on board our findings and implement all of our recommendations.”
“Businesses are offsetting their emissions on the cheap by buying low-quality carbon credits connected to forest protection projects in the Global South,” the expert added. “When only 1 in every 13 carbon credits represents a real emissions reduction, their action is lost in the forest.”
Meanwhile, as Gilles Dufrasne, CMW’s policy lead on global carbon markets, highlighted, “biodiversity, the climate, and Indigenous people or local communities are losing out on what should have been a system to drive meaningful financial flows to the forest conservation projects that so desperately need it.”
“Offsetting should be axed,” he argued. “It cannot work in its current form, and carbon markets must evolve into something different. The focus should be on getting money to the right place, rather than getting as many credits as possible.”
As Patrick Galey, senior fossil fuels investigator at Global Witness, pointed out on social media Friday, the new research was released as the African nation Liberia is preparing to sign an offsetting agreement conceding 10% of its territory to Blue Carbon, a private company in the United Arab Emirates led by a member of an Emirati royal family.
Middle East Eye reported late that month that the deal for “control of one of the most densely forested territories” on the continent “would violate a number of Liberian laws, including the 2019 land rights law.” Additionally, as CMW policy expert Jonathan Crook told the outlet, “there’s no clarity as to what will be done to calculate what emission reductions have taken place.”
IndoMet in the Heart of Borneo, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
DGR conducted its annual fundraiser on Ecology of Spirit. If you have missed it, you can view it here. You can also visit our auction for paintings, books, brownies and conversations. The auction will remain open till October 31.