Natural Resources

Crucified on a Cross of Goldmining

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Rosia Montana, ghost town

There are two new films out on a contested gold mine in Romania, one airing on PBS tonight. Rosia Montana, a rural Transylvanian town (pictured right, in all of its glory), sits on top of $10 billion in gold.

PBS viewers will get one side of the story about the village:

PBS describes the film as a "David-and-Goliath story" [of poor villagers versus big mining corporations, but] viewers who see pristine shots of the Rosia valley won't realize the hills hide a huge, abandoned communist-era mine, leaking toxic heavy metals into local streams–or that while the modern mining project will level four hills to create an open pit, it will also clean up the old mess at no cost to the Romanian treasury.

Another documentary about the same mine, Mine Your Own Business, presents another angle. They say the biggest threat to the people of Rosia Montana "comes from upper-class Western environmentalism that seeks to keep them poor and unable to clean up the horrific pollution caused by Ceausescu's mining":

Local unemployed miner Gheorghe Lucian says it best: "People have no food to eat. . . . I know what I need–a job." Mr. Soros's Romanian Open Society Foundation is touting "alternative economic activities such as organic agriculture and eco-tourism," unrealistic at best.

Read more about both films here.

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  1. PBS describes the film as a “David-and-Goliath story” [of poor villagers versus big mining corporations, but] viewers who see pristine shots of the Rosia valley won’t realize the hills hide a huge, abandoned communist-era mine, leaking toxic heavy metals into local streams–or that while the modern mining project will level four hills to create an open pit, it will also clean up the old mess at no cost to the Romanian treasury.

    So at least the people stealing the natural resources this time will be a little nicer about it?

  2. …airing on PBS tonight.

    Not in O-town, it ain’t. We’ve got pledge week this week.

    So WMFE is putting on shows with Frank Sinatra and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

    You know, artists who would never be seen on “commercial” media.

  3. The locals don’t have enough wealth to clean up the area and are living on festering pollution. The big mining corporations have the finances to clean up the pollution, but the locals get stripped of all their wealth. Rinse and repeat.

  4. The same thing happens all over the world. I grew up in Montana, and seeing the Berkeley Pit in Butte, one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world, or the town of Libby, which has died to asbestos, just makes me sick.

    I gave up on the democrats when they wanted to take my guns and tax me to death, I gave up on the republicans when they started invading nations and legislating religion and morality and defunding the superfund program. I like the libertarian stance, but seeing pollution on this scale makes me a firm believer that every corporation is a sociopath, and the only check strong enough to protect us from them is a strong government oversight.

    Low taxes and tariffs should be enough for economic growth. Environmental stewardship should not be optional.

  5. Dan T. has almost hit the nail on the head.

    The mountain appears to be owned by the government, who stole it from whomever owned it before.

    When the government owned the mine, as well as all the land around it, it could pollute with impunity; the people living nearby had no way to protect their land from pollution, nor any court system that would look at their case.

    The simplest thing to do would be for the government to do two things: 1) charter a land-holding company and issue shares of ownership to all the residents living near the mountain and to the landowners who own property nearby. 2) To rigorously enforce property rights within the court system, so that should the eventual miner pollutes land it does not own, they can be forced to pay restitution.

    Then, people who want the land to be unmined can simply focus on buying out the pro-mining people’s shares. Whowever has the most money will end up buying off the less wealthy side, and in the end what happens will be the result that is most palateable (or least unpalateable) for those affected.

  6. Ramsey,

    Pollution is a product of strong government intervention, not an argument for it.

    Up to ~ 1830 or so in the US, if my factory polluted your land, you could sue me in a U.S. court and force me to pay clean-up costs. In fact, there was some interesting work done on pollution abatement technologies during that time.

    Then the courts decided that the “public interest” of industry was more “compelling” than “private property rights” and began to rule against people bringing lawsuits when their property was damaged.

    You can guess what happenned. The courts had given a carte-blanche to polluters to wreck their neighbors land, investment in pollution abatement technologies dried up, and we got a huge mess.

    Strong governments have the power force people to live with whatever government officials decide is most important. If they decide that the benefits of dumping dioxin into groundwater is worth the cost of you and your neighbors getting cancer, you will be SOL.

  7. Up to ~ 1830 or so in the US, if my factory polluted your land, you could sue me in a U.S. court and force me to pay clean-up costs. In fact, there was some interesting work done on pollution abatement technologies during that time.

    Tarran,

    Do you have any sources handy for this? I don’t doubt you, but this is something I’d like to know more about.

  8. I heard that Romania is a safe haven for terorrists.

  9. Ramsey – Strong government is the cause of this problem. The people of Romania, and especially Transylvania, are still struggling to get over the 50 years of Socialist rule which taught them to be totally dependent on government.

    When we give power to the government to “oversee” our activities, it will inevitably interfere. Legal power over others is a tempting lure to the worst sort of people – consummate liars and those seeking to pad their own nests at your expense. They will sweet talk you into electing them into the position, and then subtly subvert the process in order to benefit themselves, their family and friends.

    The problems we have now is due to “strong government oversight” of corporations. The corporations write the regulations, and our elected politicians feed us the rhetoric to make us believe that it’s for our own good.

  10. Do not feed the troll.

  11. Aw, I thinks it’s heartwarming how that disinterested charitable organization is coming to the villagers’ rescue.

    From those evil, rich westerners, the ones “that seek to keep them poor and unable to clean up the horrific pollution…”

    Ever see the towns near open-pit mines, where the nearby hills have been turned into several square miles of exposed dirt and impounded wastewater? Rich and free pollution, are they?

  12. Ah, the old argument from deliberate ignorance.

    If we pretend that laws banning pollution are indistinguishable from laws allowing pollution, we can make the argument that what occured under the latter will be the same as what would occur under the former.

  13. I lived in Romania a couple years ago when the government was deciding whether to allow the project to go forward, and I have to say, despite generally believing that the project would be good for the people of the area, I was absolutely sickened by the techniques used by Gabriel Mining (or whatever it was called). They spend an enormous amount of money to ship peasants in from the area to give these ridiculous speeches about the benefits of the mine. The peasants, who probably couldn’t even read, were spouting their talking points in a way that would make even Hillary Clinton a little queasy. I was at one of those meetings in Bucharest, and it made me a whole lot more pessimistic about the future of my mother’s country. They even paid doctors to leave the village, so that peasants would begin to leave, so they could bolster their claims that the village was in steep decline, anyway.

    Finally, let’s evaluate the mining company’s claims about the area: namely, that they will bring jobs. Who will these jobs go to? Certainly not the people of Rosia Montana, most of whom are poor Roma (“gypsies” to the less politically correct) who have lived all their lives on government handouts and, I can tell you from experience, will NOT be able to work in these jobs. The kind of mining they were going to do was going to be undertaken by a very small number of highly-trained specialists, most likely carted in from Australia, where the company is based — not the sort of job that domnul Gheorghe Lucian would be qualified to do.

    In the end, the net benefit to the Romanian government in taxes (thanks to the huge tax abatements the area received due to its squalor) was very, very small. So, let’s recap: no actual jobs for the people, very little money to the Romanian government, and the destruction of some very old Roman ruins. Not to mention the huge environmental damage that’s come out of previous projects by the same company (or, rather, holding company — Gabriel, I believe, was a company created solely for this project). The Romanian government is not known for its environmental stewardship, and I can guarantee you that when the Hungarian government sues over the evironmental damage caused by cyanide mining, the case is going to be laughed out of court but a Romanian judge while he drives away in his BMW that some kind gentleman offered him for a mere $5000.

    By the way, I wonder, who financed “Mine Your Own Business”? Well, it seems to be the marketing geniuses at Gabriel (and let me tell you, they ARE geniuses)! But wait, there’s more — what innocuous-looking organizations do you think lent their credibility to it, so that the people at Gabriel could say, “Oh, we had no control over it”? An Australian thinktank! (One guess as to where Gabriel is incorporated. I’ll give you a hint: it starts with an A and ends with an ustralia.) Who, interestingly enough, happens to trade in global warming denial.

    And don’t for a second think that the politicians (Romanian senators are elected by a list — meaning no one has any clue who they are, nor did they directly elect them, and they are accountable to no one except their parties) weren’t bribed or sweet-talked into supporting this deals. Everything in Romania reeks of corruption — take a further look and you’ll see that this isn’t a case of bonafide free-marketers against the effete liberals at Greenpeace. Don’t be taken for fools: one libertarian cog in a Soviet-era combine doesn’t mean the combine is suddenly worth more than the sum of its low-grade parts.

  14. “So at least the people stealing the natural resources this time will be a little nicer about it?”

    Actually, they want to BUY the natural resources.

  15. Stephen Smith(professional activist), did you make all that shit up?

    “They even paid doctors to leave the village, so that peasants would begin to leave”

    Oh, that’s good. We all know that when the doctor moves out of town, that’s it, game over. In the free market, no other doctor would even consider miving into an area without a doctor… I heard some people made an engine that runs on water, but GM had them all killed.

    “The peasants, who probably couldn’t even read, were spouting their talking points in a way that would make even Hillary Clinton a little queasy”

    I like your methods of attempting to manipulate the reader.

    No jobs for the locals? That’s funny too. Them damned skilled feriner miners won’t be participating in any local economic activity, will they?

    “Who, interestingly enough, happens to trade in global warming denial.”

    Oh, those fucking Nazis!

  16. I’m not a professional activist – in fact, I went into those meetings siding with the mining company, and came out disgusted and shamed.

    As for the comment about the doctors, in the free market, to people usually pay people extravagant prices NOT to perform services? Sounds a lot like an agricultural subsidy to me. And no, no doctor will move to this town, seeing as how it’s been branded for destruction by the mining company.

    And no, the miners will NOT come out with jobs. They only experience they have is with inefficient communist-era mines — not the experience to use high-tech machinery (which, mostly, requires English language skills…which I promise you these people did not have). They were trained in a communist “job market,” and as you know, these skills are often NOT transferable into the real job market.

    And finally, no, I wouldn’t call global warming denialists Nazis, just liars. And while this happens to have little to do with global warming, all I’m saying is that I wouldn’t exactly trust their analysis of the environmental impact on the project. Which wouldn’t normally be an issue, because normally one reads Consumer Reports, not watches an informercial (which is exactly what “Mine Your Own Business” is — an infomercial commissioned by the company that has the most to gain, and backed by an organization that similarly has a lot to gain).

    To frame it in a libertarian context: in the free market, pollution wouldn’t be an issue because those who caused the pollution would be sued in court. In Romania, this simply does not happen. There are no impartial arbiters. Therefore, as imperfect as it might be, it’s generally a good idea to have someone looking out for these sorts of interests (at least until everyone alive in Romania in 1989 dies and the country can finally shed its communist legacy and move the fuck on).

  17. “I heard some people made an engine that runs on water, but GM had them all killed.”

    That’s funny, but not nearly as funny as how authoritative you’re trying to sound when the stark truth is that you don’t have the single slightest clue as to how those towns work. Not a single clue. You have a vague understanding of the common talking points in support of big business, but not the slightest clue as to how such ideas interface in a small Romanian town.

    And for the courage to speak out on something about which you have not the faintest clue, I salute you.

  18. Local resident and unemployed miner, Gheorghe Luchian, has more to say about the villagers’ side on his blog Report From Rosia. (www.reportfromrosia.com)

  19. Ha, that blog is HILARIOUS. What I love especially is the pictures of the miners carted in to protest in favor of the mine. Reminds me of the Mineriads that took place in Romania in the ’90s, where the former communists trucked in thousands of miners from the countryside to violently repress the students’ pro-democracy, pro-capitalism demonstrations. Against, these companies are trucking in miners (I find it difficult to believe that these miners traveled to the capital on their own dime, considering the crux of the issue is apparently their poverty) to stifle dissent.

    Read about the Mineriads (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineriad), and then read Mr. Lucian’s blog and look at some of the pictures…see if it doesn’t remind you of anything. Angry miners, pissed because globalization has left them behind, supported by populists demogogues. Only this time, the demagogues are hiding behind the fake cloth of capitalism.

    And yet, the ways in which this project is anti-capitalist are astounding. Look no further than the tax abatements (read: subsidies), and you’ll realize why this project would be profitable in a country that otherwise is moving beyond heavy industry and resource extraction. Couple that with a lax and corrupt justice system which cannot arbitrate disputes and property rights fairly, and you’ll see that this is no free market in which these events are taking place. Shame on Reason for focusing on this small issue when what they ought to be exposing are the myriad ways in which the free market was manipulated to make it seem like this project going forward is a triumph of free trade and capitalism.

  20. Lamar, oh yeah! You sir, have not a clue. You couldn’t find a clue to save your life. You wouldn’t have a clue even if you had a clue. You are sooooo clueless. When god was handing out clues, you were at the back of the queue.

    Fakely though…

    Stupid me, I bet the poor people would rather starve than have a yucky mine in their town. I’m sure they are untrainable as well. I bet they don’t understand democracy, either. Probably Muslims. You completely ignore the arguments of the majority of the local population. Its not hard to find a vocal minority to oppose all things “corporatey”.

    Mines – bad.
    Energy production – bad.
    Manufacturing – bad.
    Big business- bad.
    Vacations, big houses, nice cars, designer clothing, jewelry – good (Just feign ignorance as to how we, including all the people opposed to the above, get all that nifty stuff)

    Please tell me how “these towns” with 70% unemployment work. I tend to think that during the 17 year production cycle of the mine, one or two locals might benefit a little. They might even learn some skills. Maybe learn to be better gypsies. Or let them, or better yet, force them to live their lives in glorious poverty. They’re retards anyway.

    Did you also just happen to attend some of these meetings, originaly siding with the mine company, but now you are ashamed and disgusted? Small world.

  21. And yet, the ways in which this project is anti-capitalist are astounding.

    yeah, pretty much.

    overall the comments section here needs a good dose of “Manichean dualism is stupid 101.”

  22. Stupid me, I bet the poor people would rather starve than have a yucky mine in their town.

    And yet, that’s hardly the tradeoff. Firstly, there’s no starvation in Romania — it’s not that poor. Lack of heated water, 21st century medical care, and 21st century communication devices, maybe. But lack of food, no way in hell. You’ve undermined your argument by exaggeration (and yet, for some reason I’ll continue to debunk it). With the coming of the mine, most of the infrastructure/structures in the town would be destroyed. Rather than rebuild, these people are far more likely to migrate to nearby urban centers. Which, interestingly enough, they have the choice of doing even without the mine.

    I’m sure they are untrainable as well.

    Of course they’re trainable. The question, however, isn’t whether or not they are ABLE to be trained, but rather, are they ABLE to be trained more cheaply than it would cost to bring in some experts from Bucharest/Texas/Canada/Australia. The answer to that question is, obviously, no.

    I bet they don’t understand democracy, either. Probably Muslims.

    Okay, cute rhetorical talking point. If you happen to have huge breasts and like being talked down to by creepy old men, I think there’s an opening on The O’Reilly Factor. If you don’t have huge breasts, try his radio show.

    You completely ignore the arguments of the majority of the local population.

    No, I don’t. I’m simply stating that they’ve been duped with Madison Ave marketing. What they believe is simply wrong, in my opinion — the mine will not bring permanent jobs, the mine will not be environmentally friendly. Legitimate free-market exchanges require both the buyer and seller to know what they’re getting out of a deal — these villagers don’t have a clue.

    …okay, I could go through every sentence of what you wrote and debunk it, but I think I’ll stop there. This isn’t me vs. capitalism…this is me vs. government-sponsored pseudo-statism: the state deciding what areas and projects deserve development, and then handing out subsidies to companies that do business there. Don’t get me wrong — there is no future in Ro?ia Montan? for its present-day inhabitants. But the place should die a dignified free-market death of attrition and emigration, not be sold to some company for a pittance, razed, and pumped full of cyanide.

    …finally, as for you doubting that what I say about being intimately knowledgeable of this story, s? nu mai vorbe?ti despre lucruri despre care habar nu ai. Go look that up in a Romanian dictionary.

  23. Ouchie. I spent a lot of time in a small town in Spain and realized it was not the same damn thing as a small town in the USA. It might just be possible that these people would prefer to starve than owe their existence to a foreign power. Local pride and nationalism have a way of making people think differently than us. Just guessin’ though.

  24. “Local unemployed miner Gheorghe Lucian says it best: “People have no food to eat. . . . I know what I need–a job.” Mr. Soros’s Romanian Open Society Foundation is touting “alternative economic activities such as organic agriculture and eco-tourism,” unrealistic at best”

    More evidence that Soros is, in fact, a total douchebag.

  25. Stephen Smith: not extremely polite, are you ?

    “s? nu mai vorbe?ti despre lucruri despre care habar nu ai”
    Translation: “you should not talk about what you don’t know”

    some details about Rosia Montana:
    – mining settlement since the Roman times, about 1900 years ago

    – mining was done with every known technology, including those using mercury

    – illiterate peasants ? the people that lived in Rosia Montana were trained miners brought in from all over the country; anyway, I have failed to meet an illiterate person in the bureaucratic Rumania up to now: if you can’t read and write, you f***** die. What the natives call “illiterate” are those that failed to grasp all the intricate grammar rules of a language artificially build out of about 5 related dialects. In Rumania Stephen Smith would qualify as “illiterate”.

    Dan T. : “So at least the people stealing the natural resources ” …
    Nobody is stealing natural resources: the gold of the area was mined for almost 2000 years, what is left is low grade minerals that cannot be exploited with any other technologies. Also, Gabriel won’t make it with the gold on the international markets: all the gold mined in Rumania (not a lot of gold) is sold to the government at fixed prices.

    ” … huge, abandoned communist-era mine, leaking toxic heavy metals into local streams …”
    That’s a volcanic area, and the sterile piles gathered there during centuries of gold mining and the natural cracks in the rocks leak heavy metals and other minerals into the local streams all the time. This happens in other areas of volcanic origin which were not yet mined, and there the water is called “mineral” and sold in bottles or used for “cures”. You know, humans need a small amount of “heavy metals”, otherwise they get sick and die.

    tarran: “The mountain appears to be owned by the government, who stole it from whomever owned it before.”

    The mountain was never privately owned: any government that got in control of the area owned the mountain and sold mining permits.

    “50 years of Socialist rule which taught them to be totally dependent on government.”

    Socialist rule teaches you only two things: how to exploit the government if possible, and how to avoid it if necessary.

    Rosia Montana is a mining town, not a village (being a town or a village in Rumania is only an administrative issue: most of US towns would qualify as villages, and all the suburbanites would be classified as villagers if Rumanian rules would apply). Rosia Montana has suffered cycles of boom and bust, and will probably see other in the future.

    I am skeptical about the “dangers” of open pit mining. I have seen a town where uranium was mined during the ’50s: G?rda, some 150 – 200 km from Rosia Montana. You have to know a town was there to see what was left of the buildings, the piles of sterile powder, the excavated area and the roads under the vegetation that grew since it was abandoned. If you don’t know where to look, you might mistake it for a “pristine” area.

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