Can We Please Rethink This Deregulation/Privatization Thing?


Opponents of government regulation seem to think that there are regulations because some bureaucrat woke up one morning with a headache and the result was a passel of regulations. That’s wrong of course, but the supporters of this whole privatization movement, whether it’s zanies like the Bundy boys, or soulless Congressmen bought and paid for by industry, want you to think that.

Government regulation is there because Congress passed laws. The laws were enacted to address specific problems, usually very serious problems because if it isn’t serious, it doesn’t get Congress’s attention.

Let’s look at one specific problem: clean water.

Do you remember when the Arctic Grayling all vanished from Birch Creek in Interior Alaska? Placer miners put so much sediment into the waters of Birch Creek that they turned the creek bottom into a mud hole. The grayling couldn’t spawn, and eventually died off. Not until the Clean Water Act was adopted in 1977 was placer mining forced to use settling ponds did the creek bottom begin to recover. The Arctici Grayling population was much slower to recover and, even today, is still below the levels of the early 1970s.

Muddy water isn’t the worst of it. Not even close.

WC was recently in Peru, floating the Madre de Dios River. The Madre de Dios and its tributaries drain both Manu and Tambopatu National Parks. Pristine Amazon jungle. Or at least it was. Now portions look like a moonscape.

Mining tailings from illegal placer mining, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Mining tailings from illegal placer mining, Madre de Dios River, Peru

The miners not only destroy the jungle. They use mercury to extract the low amounts of gold from the river gravels. The result is a lot of mercury in the environment. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin and, in the biosphere, oxidizes to methyl mercury, a deadly poison, even in low amounts.

Mining tailings and poisoned runoff, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Mining tailings and poisoned runoff, Madre de Dios River, Peru

As a result, the Madre de Dios has some of the highest levels of methyl mercury in the world. And because methyl mercury is bioaccumulative, it is found at increasingly higher levels as you work your way up the food chain. The top predator fish of the Madre de Dios, Maeiros and Amazon Rivers have mercury levels 400-800 times higher than is safe to eat.

Colorado, illegal squatter camp, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Colorado, illegal squatter camp, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Mining camps spring up, bringing the complications of human activity, including human waste and disease, to the area. The area of South America with the highest incidence of malaria is the illegal mining regions along the Madre de Dios. Garbage, in great, stinking piles, is strewn everywhere. A restaurant in the mining camp of Colorado offers baños, where the human excrement goes directly into the Madre de Dios. Water for cleaning, laundry and showers comes from the same river.

Industrialization creeps in to illegal mining, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Industrialization creeps in to illegal mining, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Organized crime has reportedly moved into the illegal mining business in Peru. With more money has come increased industrialization. The amount of forest lost to illegal mining has increased from 10,000 hectares to more than 50,000 hectares per year over the last ten years. Heavy mining equipment threatens to increase the rate of devastation.

This is what repeal of the Clean Water Act would mean. This is what privatizing federal lands would mean. This is what the Bundys and their selfish fellow travelers want. Grazing laws are on the books because of overgrazing. National forests exist because the lumber industry pillaged the forests of the midwest. Clean water laws are on the books because we turned Lake Erie into a sewage pond and set the Cuyahoga River on fire.

If you think WC is exaggerating, WC invites you to visit the Peruvian Amazon basin. Let’s not make those mistakes again.

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