'Reckless charges' refuted

  Dear HCN,

The first lesson you learn if you want to be a conservation activist is that you have to know what you're talking about. Otherwise, you lose credibility. Unfortunately, Larry Tuttle's letter (HCN, 9/25/00: Response to 'squishy-soft') reflects that he has yet to learn that lesson. Our suggestion? Visit the Northern Plains Resource Council's Web site (www.nprcmt.org) and read the full text of our contract with the Stillwater Mining Co.

If he makes that visit, Mr. Tuttle will learn that the "Good Neighbor Agreement" is legally binding. It spells out standards of performance, defines processes and deadlines to ensure that those standards are met, and provides for unprecedented citizen access to information about the company's operations.

Far from gutting standard federal and state requirements, this agreement goes beyond what the state of Montana or the federal government requires.

Without this contract, there would be two large mines with state and federal oversight.

With this contract, there are two large mines with state and federal oversight, plus the following:
  • independent environmental audits by a firm selected by the company and citizens' groups,
  • the opportunity for citizens' groups to review and comment on the company's proposals before the limited public participation process required by federal and state laws,
  • legally enforceable water-protection limits that far exceed state and federal requirements,
  • a permanent conservation easement on more than 2,000 acres of company-owned land,
  • limitations on vehicle traffic in both watersheds,
  • prevention of workers' camps outside of existing communities,
  • a legally binding requirement to share environmental information (including mine inspections) with all parties to the agreement,
  • company payment for mutually agreed-upon scientific consultants,
  • binding arbitration for disputes arising under the agreement,
  • citizen samples of all company waste streams,
  • plus many more provisions too numerous to mention here.

Did NPRC take what Mr. Tuttle calls "the co-optation bait" by agreeing to a company-initiated strategy? Hardly. NPRC made the initial offer to negotiate. The company probably would never have agreed to sit down at the table had NPRC and our affiliates not been poised to challenge key permits necessary for the development of Stillwater's new platinum/palladium mine and expansion of its existing one.

Mr. Tuttle has convinced himself that this agreement will result in massive resource destruction. Having sat through the hours of the meetings, having read the agreement cover to cover, and having seen tangible results as neighbors of the mine, we can only ask, "How?" The agreement provides protections above and beyond those provided by state and federal law. Likewise, what Mr. Tuttle calls "secret negotiations" have no effect on the flow of public information. In fact, the agreement makes considerably more information available to the citizens' groups that have been watchdogging the company for the past 20 years.

There are legitimate concerns about an organization being co-opted by the negotiation process. It's likely that some companies view negotiation as a possible tool for co-opting citizens' groups, or wearing down opposition, or polishing their public image. We had no illusions going into this process that our goals were the same as those of the company. We debated passionately at NPRC about how to make absolutely certain that we wouldn't become invested in the company's success and thereby walk away from our principles.

The Northern Plains Resource Council has been fighting abuse of power by corporations for over 28 years. Before Mr. Tuttle makes reckless charges that we've given away the store, and before he advocates revoking our tax-exempt status (as some "wise use" advocates tried to accomplish a few years back), we suggest he actually take the time to read the agreement.

Jack Heyneman, Fishtail, Montana
Arleen Boyd, Fishtail, Montana
Jerry Iverson, Big Timber, Montana

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