Thwarted by Environmental Rules, Mining Company Sues Under NAFTA

Critics have long said the North American Free Trade Agreement spells trouble for the environment. Now, mining company Glamis Gold is poised to prove them right: It plans to use an obscure provision of the treaty to challenge California’s strict environmental laws. For years, the company, which is owned by a Canadian-based multinational, has been trying to build a gold mine in Imperial County that would entail excavating 1,571 square miles of federally protected desert, including sacred religious and cultural sites. Recently, California passed new, strict rules governing open-pit mining that Glamis claims will render the mine economically unfeasible. Before the rules came into effect, the mine would have been worth up to $50 million, the company says, and it plans to file suit under a NAFTA provision that allows investors to sue foreign governments for compensation if they take actions that are “tantamount to expropriation.”