Potential Impacts of Gold Mining in Virginia
Creating strong rights-based law to protect localities and Virginia
from the devastating impacts of gold and metallic mining
The Virginia Department of Energy
Public Comment Forum for Gold Mining Study
July 20, 2022
Heidi Dhivya Berthoud
On behalf of the Virginia Community Rights Network
the Friends of Buckingham
Virginia Community Rights Network (VACRN) has partnered with the Friends of Buckingham (FoB) to promote awareness and take action to stop new industrial gold mining, and all metallic mining from entering Buckingham County at the local level. We ask you to take a closer look at what we are doing. We ask the State Agencies to consider the importance of supporting and strengthening local community measures to protect their health and ecosystems. The local communities are the first gateway to the permitting process. The state can choose to support the localities to protect themselves OR support polluting industry at the expense of localities’ health, safety, and general welfare. And what happens in Buckingham impacts the entire state, especially those downstream and downwind.
We ask you to check out the FoB website to see the extensive information collected there, to help our communities understand the devastating impacts industrial metallic mining is having around the world and would bring to our community. We do not want to repeat these mistakes.
For an in depth, studied report of our grave concerns, please note that VACRN and FoB have signed a letter of support for the reports submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, SELC, CBF, and Dr Ann Maest. Also, please see this ‘short list’ of concerns that FoB and VACRN have made available for the public to encourage them to express their concerns to you.
For this record, we include a very ‘short list’ of concerns that we have for metallic mining:
1) Dewatering of mines, impacting the water table for miles around
2) Airborne toxins impacting the local area
3) Leaching of toxins into groundwater
4) Acid Mine Drainage
5) Catastrophic mine waste (tailings) dam failures
6) Virginia has no regulations on the use of cyanide
7) Forever-toxic sites, leaving the forever-burden to the taxpayers
8) Virginia’s rainfall is a huge problem – let alone the climate crisis with increasingly devastating storms
9) Local governments are enticed by tax revenue that will never cover the true costs
10) Negligible number of local jobs – most are specialized, imported from elsewhere
Who we are, our niche in this campaign to stop industrial gold mining
Our mission: Virginia Community Rights Network (VACRN) guides, supports, and encourages local efforts to recognize and legally secure the Rights of Nature and Communities to a healthy environment through self-government at the city, county, and state level. VACRN is dedicated to challenging the injustice of corporate rights that impede local and direct democracy.
This project is the primary focus of VACRN, with the strong support of Friends of Buckingham (FoB).
Our focus is at the local level. The county and municipalities have the power to issue or deny the first (special use) permit in a long list of required permits for any applying metallic mining company. Our job is to help our communities assert our rights:
The right and responsibility to make decisions locally to protect our communities.
The right and responsibility to protect ourselves and our water, air and land from the toxic trespass of industrial metallic mining.
Our national and state constitutions provide the foundation for supporting these rights. We are taking responsibility by asserting those rights.
We have assisted Buckingham residents to write a Community Bill of Rights for the county that would protect us from the toxic trespass we know would come with new metallic mining:
An Ordinance To Protect The Health, Safety, And General Welfare Of The Residents And Natural Environment Of The County Of Buckingham By Exercising The Right Of Local Self-Governance, And By Recognizing The Fundamental Rights Of Residents And Ecosystems Of The County To Be Free From Toxic Trespass, And By Applying A Common-Sense Burden Of Proof Of Safety And Environmental Justice To Corporations Seeking To Engage In Metallic Mining Within The County
This rights-based ordinance would be a strong protective measure to prevent an applying metallic mining company from getting that first essential permit. It is our goal to demonstrate this. We have presented and proposed this bill to the County Administrator and some supervisors. Thus, we are happy that on July 11, 2022, the Buckingham Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to permit the County Administrator and Attorney to begin “developing a gold mining ordinance”. We are dedicated to this success and will work hard to get our proposed bill passed.
This has been a great educational and organizing tool to help us clarify what we want for our community. We talked to people across Buckingham while collecting signatures [over 800 so far] for a petition in support of this local bill. Many people knew nothing about the potential industrial gold mining in Buckingham, and were quite alarmed. Also we found that most were not aware of the 70-some abandoned gold mines in Buckingham from the 1800s that are full of mercury. If we can’t get those cleaned up, why would we invite more industrial pollution?
The proposed ordinance we are bringing to the table was modeled after existing law adopted unanimously by the Town Council of Halifax in 2008 to protect them against possible uranium mining upstream in Pittsylvania County.
We know, and expect the state study will confirm, that the laws we have now do not protect us. We are inspired by this innovative, protective, rights-based approach. There are over 200 communities across America that have adopted a Community Bill of Rights. In addition to Halifax, for example, the Pittsburgh City Council passed one to stop fracked gas wells from drilling in the city. We too can do this here in Buckingham, and across the state.
Essential details of the Ordinance
This rights based bill requires a shift in perspective and priorities.
We understand the state has the authority to regulate industry. What we are concerned with is the state, or local government permitting industries that violate our right not to be poisoned. We want to enshrine a law that steps forward and says: We have rights and they come first - before corporate rights.
Our inalienable right not to be poisoned and our right to life is not something that can be set aside. To not protect the people and their communities from poisoning would be to deny the people a republican form of government. Our elected officials must represent and protect us or risk violating their constitutional duty to do so.
The 14th amendment of the US constitution forbids states from enacting laws that violate rights. So if the state creates laws that violate rights, it would be a civil rights violation. It would be a violation of our 14th amendment rights. We know that would not be in the best interest of the county, the state, or its people and environs.
The following are key points in the proposed bill.
Definition of toxic trespass
Section 7.2. Toxic Trespass. (AKA “Poisoning”) The deposition of toxic substances or potentially toxic substances used in or resulting from metallic mining within the body of any resident of the County of Buckingham or into any ecosystem in the County’s jurisdiction, including but not limited to the James River watershed, is declared a form of trespass, and is hereby prohibited.
Prove it First
The common sense law “Prove it First” - first created in Wisconsin, and in process in Minnesota is included in the local ordinance. We want our county and state to adopt this. This law gets us out ahead of all problems related to metallic mining. Before any permits are granted, the applying mining company would first have to prove that there is at least one other comparable mine project that caused no harm to the community. These ideas are written into the Buckingham ordinance in Section 7.1.1. We have asked you, NAS and State Agencies, to look at this and please recommend this to the General Assembly.
Section 7.1. Required Documentation Prior to Issuance of Permits for Metallic Mining
7.1.1 It shall be unlawful for any corporation to engage in metallic mining activities within the County of Buckingham prior to the submission of all reports from all state and federal environmental and health agencies as well as judicial findings in court cases related to at least one metallic mine that is similar in scope and purpose to what is proposed for Buckingham County, and which had operated in the United States for at least ten years and has subsequently not been operational for at least ten years. Any information contained in these reports indicating that toxic trespass, as defined by this ordinance, has resulted from that mining activity shall disqualify an applicant from receiving a metallic mining permit.
Proactive Environmental Justice requirements
7.1.2 Applications for metallic mining permits shall not be reviewed or acted upon until a full and complete Environmental Justice review (guided by NEPA and Article 12, the Virginia Environmental Justice Act) is submitted to Buckingham County. The results of these assessments shall show definitively that no disadvantaged, poor, minority or marginalized community, municipality or neighborhood in Buckingham County would suffer toxic trespass, as defined by this ordinance. Failure to supply this or any of the required reports shall disqualify an applicant from receiving a permit that would allow metallic mining.
We hope you see the simple brilliance of this rights-based approach. It essentially gives power and assurance to the local government and the state so we all can happily rest, knowing that common sense law is taking care of our health and well being in a very good, reasonable, responsible and just way. Thank you.