My Turn: Coeur's ads are hard to swallow

Company's environmental record doesn't jive with its claims

Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Coeur d' Alene Mines has constantly bombarded the Juneau public with ads touting its wonderful environmental record and making claims of how "clean" its Kensington Mine will be.

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One ad that seems to run day after day characterizes its mine tailings as no more than "crushed rock" that is chemically "inert." Calling the tailings inert is absurd, and characterizing them as crushed rock is equally misleading. The suspended solids in Coeur's tailing sludge will be the consistency of a powdered drink mix. But you wouldn't want to drink from Coeur's tailings slurry. It would be like drinking grit filled ammonia. Calling this slurry, which has to flow through a three-mile pipeline, crushed rock, is like calling human waste chopped up food. If Coeur officials put out propaganda like this in their ads, why should we believe anything they say?

Coeur officials also like to tout their 900 environmental studies and numerous environmental awards. There is no mention that several year's worth of Coeur's studies involved either the mine that was fully permitted in 1997, or involved new designs that Coeur undertook to make the mine cheaper to operate, and then dropped in favor of developing an even cheaper design. As for Coeur's environmental awards, many of these awards were granted by trade and industry groups, including the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers; Chile's National Mining Society; the Northwest Mining Association; and chemical giants, Conoco and Dupont. Other awards were received from state agencies, particularly agencies in states like Idaho that are more interested in promoting resource development than overseeing it.

In regards to Coeur's environmental record, the company and the Environmental Protection Agency have been given a 60-day notice that a citizens lawsuit will be filed over toxic mercury releases at its mine in Rochester, Nev. The suit alleges that three Coeur d' Alene workers have been contaminated with mercury. Federal law requires that mining companies report their emissions to the EPA annually. Though monitors have detected toxic levels of mercury emissions in their plant, Coeur has been reporting zero or minimal emissions for the last five years, suggesting Coeur is purposely underreporting its mercury emissions. The Rochester Mine is the same one that the state of Nevada has cited for polluting groundwater with cyanide.

Coeur also has a history of problems at other mines. The company and its chief executive officer were the subject of a class action suit filed by Coeur investors in 1998. This suit, which was settled out of court for $7 million, alleged that Coeur management withheld critical information from investors on a failing impoundment dam at Coeur's Golden Cross Mine in New Zealand, that they withheld information that their Fachinal Mine in Chile never reached commercial production due to operational and personnel problems, that the gold reserves of the Fachinal Mine were deliberately overestimated, that Coeur made false statements to investors and Standard & Poor's investment service in regards to these mines to inflate Coeur's stock prices, and that Coeur filed false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission for the same reason.

Coeur's stock price plummeted 80 percent after this suit was settled. Both the New Zealand mine and the Chilean mine were shut down, and to date Coeur's stock price has never recovered to its previous level of $25 a share.

I am under no illusions that the information presented above will change the opinions of hard-core mine supporters one iota. But for those of you who have a healthy skepticism in regards to corporate media, I hope it at least gives you pause the next time you read all the rosy propaganda put out by Coeur d' Alene and its supporters.

• Mark Rorick is a chairman for the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club.

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