Mining giant Newmont continues to juggle pollution claims and lawsuits

The last two weeks have seen a continued flurry of activity surrounding charges that mining giant Newmont fouled the environment and sickened villagers around its operations in Indonesia’s Buyat Bay. The New York Times revealed a 2001 internal memo from a Newmont VP recommending a cut in executive bonuses (horrors!) because the company had claimed — falsely — to adhere to American environmental standards in its global operations. The Times also exposed an internal company audit revealing that Newmont’s Indonesian operation spewed some 17 tons* of mercury into the air and 16 tons into the water over four years — an amount that a U.S. EPA staffer called “a major concern.” Later, a coalition of Buyat villagers dropped their lawsuit against the company, saying Indonesia’s courts could not be relied on for a fair verdict. The company dropped its lawsuit against three activists. Indonesian officials did not drop their lawsuit against top Newmont officials. And finally, Newmont sought permission from U.S. regulators to block a shareholder motion that would require the company to perform an audit of its waste-disposal operations in Indonesia. After all, why do such an audit when everything seems to be going so smoothly?

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*[Correction, 03 Jan 2005: This summary originally stated that 17 million tons of mercury were released into the air and 16 million tons into the water. In fact, it was only 17 tons and 16 tons, respectively.]

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