Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Newmont mining executive acquitted

The International Herald Tribune reports this morning that Richard Ness, president of Newmont Mining of Denver, was acquitted of criminal charges of environmental pollution and resultant damage to the health of local villagers. Accused of dumping mercury and arsenic into Buyat Bay, 1,300 miles northeast of Jakarta, Ness risked a 10-year jail term and a $60K fine. The prosecution’s evidence was apparently very weak: only villagers who complained of itching were called as witnesses and the police tests showing toxin levels way beyond national standards were refuted by the WHO, as well as Indonesian government agencies and several independent groups. As activists point out, tests for body arsenic accumulation should continue for up to 30 years (Newmont mined only from 1996 to 2002 and stopped processing ore and closed the mine on Aug. 31, 2004). As my earlier post regarding the Freeport-McMoRan strike and the recent ATCA case, Sarei v. Rio Tinto (see also Roger Alford’s post) indicate, gold and copper mining in Indonesia will continue to raise not simply the legal issue of accountability for habitat destruction, pollution and the concomitant damage to the health and welfare of local peoples, but the deeper issue of balancing technological progress and need (the demand for copper in China has increased dramatically recently) with respect for the environment and our fellow humans, and sharing the wealth.

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