Human activities and environmental concerns have always existed side by side but only with the huge technological progress and industrial modernization that took place in the 19th century, the protection of the environment became an issue of crucial importance. Contamination of air, soil, water, and other natural resources, as well as the associated extinction of various animal and plant species, started bothering people especially in connection to the potential for the extinction of humankind as such. Needless to say, the issue acquired political attention and various governmental agencies started working to solve the environmental protection problem in the modern highly industrialized society. The example of the Blackbird Mine illustrates the most widely spread scenario of the issue development and shows what governmental policies might be implemented and what results they might have.
The essence of the issue associated with the Blackbird Mine is in the fact that this currently inactive mining facility has a long history of that involved extraction of cobalt, copper, and silver from the underground deposits in the area of the town of Salmon situated in the Lemhi Country in central Idaho (EPA, 2008). Around the 1990s, the huge amounts of copper, cobalt, and silver ore tailings and sediments combined with masses o0f contaminated soil were put to the surface by strong hurricanes and flows of water originating from heavy rains. As a result, the rich natural resources, especially soil and water ones, of the South Fork of the Big Deer Creek, Big Deer Creek, Blackbird Creek, and Panther Creek were heavily contaminated (EPA, 2008). Federal and local agencies like EPA, Department of Health and Human Services, etc. took the effort to solve the issue by their respective policies whose essence and efficiency will be discussed further.
Thus, the problem of the Blackbird Mine in particular and the mining industry in Idaho, on the whole, is multidimensional. First, of course, the situation in the Blackbird Mine has the environmental dimension obvious from the basic arguments of the Idaho mining companies and their opponents, i. e. community organizations like (Stone, 2008). Second, there is an important health care dimension in this situation as far as the Department of Health and Human Services argues about the gastrointestinal effects that human beings might experience as a result of consuming water and overall residing in the Blackbird Mine because of the cobalt, copper, and silver toxic and arsenic tailings and sediments (Atsdr, 2009). As well, the problem has social and economic dimensions as it affects the lives of the Idaho residents and is associated with considerable financial resources for mining companies interested in the continued Blackbird Mine exploitation. Finally, the issue has a political dimension which is reflected in the activities of various Federal and local authorities caused by social protest, court trials, and environmentalist activities against air, water, and soil contamination.
Actors Involved in the Problem
Actors Impacted by the Problem
Naturally, the issue with the Blackbird Mine involves several key actors. First of all, it impacts the residents of Lehi County in central Idaho, i. e. the area in direct connection with the . Second, the mine owners are affected by this issue. Third, potential employees of the mine, if it is reopened, are also affected as their employment interests are directly associated with the situation outcome. Finally, federal governmental and local authorities are impacted by the issue as the community awaits their reaction to the issue and puts their policies under considerable scrutiny.
Federal, State, or Local Authorities Involved
In particular, the major federal, state, and local authorities involved in the situation with the contaminating tailings and sediments from the Blackbird Mine include the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Government Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and the U.S. Congress.
Among other actors involved in the process of looking for a decision to the Blackbird Mine problem, there are such community agencies as the Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP), Boulder-White Cloud Council, Earthworks Center, the Market Wire Association, and the Idaho community interested in saving the environment and preserving the opportunity to drink the clean water and breath the fresh air.
The above mentioned federal, state, and local authorities started active participation in the Blackbird Mine issue around 1995 when EPA announced and put in practice the cleanup actions aimed at collecting and removing the contaminated water masses and ore tailings that also allowed testing the water samples for the intake of copper, cobalt, and silver elements (EPA, 2008). Alongside, EPA plans on constructing the Bucktail Creek diversion pipeline in 2010 and carries out annual monitoring of its cleanup procedures (EPA, 2008). The policies implemented by the U.S. Government Department of Health and Human Services and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease are limited to the set of recommendations on carrying out environmentally safe mining works and the so-called Public Health Action Plan (PHAP) that includes seven major points focused on the workers on-site safety, placement of contamination signs at the creeks near the Blackbird Mine, and designing technology for redirecting and reducing the contaminants outflow from the Blackbird Mine facilities to the waters of the South Fork of the Big Deer Creek, Blackbird Creek, etc.
The effects of the above-discussed policies are rather controversial because the small-scope outcomes of the cleanup process by the EPA and the Public Health Action Plan by the U.S. Government Department of Health prove to be positive as they allow specialists to test the waters, identify the major contaminants, and start working on designing the system to reduce and/or eliminate water pollution by the Blackbird Mine (Atsdr, 2009; EPA, 2008). However, on the other hand, these policies can be labeled inefficient as the activities of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the U.S. Congress are still subjected to public criticism and protest expressed by the Boulder-White Cloud Council and Earthworks Center (Honsinger, 2009; Stone, 2008).
In more detail, the Boulder-White Cloud Council criticizes Congresss position on the Mining Law reform that would protect the environment and make it safer for nature and its employees. At the same time, Honsinger (2009) reports that the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service has recently adopted the decision to reopen the Blackbird Mine given the guarantees of environmental safety from the Formation Capital Corporation.
Drawing from the above-presented data, the governmental and local authorities policies directed at solving the Blackbird Mine issue cannot be called effective and environment-friendly, and there are two basic points to support this point of view. First, cooperating with the mining companies and adopting the mine reopening initiatives the agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service have a financial interest in the success of the project. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand the motivation of the Governmental agencies in promoting the mining processes that are proven to be environmentally harmful and dangerous for the health of people.
The second point is the assumed reluctance of the local and federal authorities to work on substantial changes into the industrial structure of the region and, again, lose the stable sources of profit, i. e. financial interest of the responsible authorities in making the decisions favorable for the mine owning companies.
Role of Science and Economics
The roles of science and economics in the process of solving the Blackbird Mine issue can be perceived as diametrically opposite as far as the scientific point expressed by Jain (2000, p. 4307) and Stone (2008) and the scholars from EPA (2008) and Atsdr (2009) is unified by the danger, for the environment and human health, the continued cobalt mining in Idaho have, but the economic potential of the industry still prevents the U.S. Government from making the environmentally-friendly decisions.
Further on, the potential for economic profitability might be regarded as the main reason for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service to agree on the conditions of Blackbird Mine reopening and launching of the Idaho Cobalt Project (ICP) by the Formation Capital Corporation. Apart from the guarantees of environmental safety given by this company, the governmental agencys economic interest might have been one of the driving forces of the affirmative project decision.
Based on the above data, the future development of the situation is likely to get worse in case if no urgent measures are taken. This fact is dangerous also because it might give the precedent for the law violations. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 9607 presupposes strict accountability, fines, and even criminal responsibility for the organizations possessing and exploiting the environmentally hazardous substances with the actual harm to the community and environment (Open Jurist, 2009). However, instead of exercising the legal power of CERCLA, the U.S. Government finds another owner for the already proven to be hazardous Blackbird Mine, thus disregarding the fact that new owners, according to CERLA should also be held responsible for the past harmful activities of their facilities even if they did not possess those facilities at the time when the irreversible and irretrievable commitment of natural resources took place (Open Jurist, 2009). Thus, under such circumstances even the assumed efficiency of the EPA and Atsdr-financed policies are likely to fail as the counteraction to them is exercised at the highest, legislative, level of authority.
Accordingly, the conclusion from the above-presented discussion is that the environmental issue associated with the work and consequences of the performance of the Blackbird Mine for cobalt, copper, and silver in Salmon, Lemhi County, Idaho is far from being solved. The key actors of the issue, i. e. the major federal, state, and local authorities, community organizations, and the residents of the area in question work according to their opportunities in the situation, but the issue is complicated by the legislative reluctance to seek its adequate solutions. Instead of closing the publically protested and environmentally dangerous mining industry, or at least working to reduce its harm, the respective authorities pursue economic interests and contract another mining operator that gives no guarantee of environmental safety instead of easily breakable promises.