Friday, July 20, 2012

Update on Doe Run in La Oroya, Peru

Doe Run smelting plant at La Oroya, Peru
The Doe Run facility in La Oroya, Peru. Credit: Courtesy Tim Campion

(This article appears on the St. Louis Public Radio.)

Former Doe Run subsidiary criticized for smelter pollution in Peru

By Véronique LaCapra

Updated 10:51 a.m. July 20 to clarify ownership of smelter

Missouri lead producer Doe Run is back under scrutiny for pollution resulting from metal smelting operations by its former subsidiary in Peru.

A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony today about the environmental and health effects of pollution from the Peruvian smelter — and discussed the joint responsibility of Doe Run and the Peruvian government for cleaning it up.

Saint Louis University environmental health expert Fernando Serrano has studied environmental pollution near the Doe Run Peru smelter — and its impacts on about 35,000 people in and around the small town of La Oroya.

“And the results indicated that practically the entire population of La Oroya was exposed to elevated levels of toxic metals,” Serrano said.

Serrano says residents’ blood levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic exceeded any acceptable health standards. He says the soils in the entire valley around the smelter are still highly contaminated.

St. Louis-based Doe Run said it would not be appropriate for it to comment on this story because it no longer owns the Peru facility. The company owned the Peruvian smelter for about a decade starting in 1997.

Parent company The Renco Group also declined to comment.

Both the St. Louis-based Doe Run Resources Corporation and Doe Run Peru are owned by The Renco Group, which is embroiled in litigation related to environmental contamination in La Oroya.

The smelter has operated in La Oroya since 1922.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welfare State

For those who condemn the American welfare state and the deadbeats who leech off the system.

Have you, your children, your parents or grandparents ever enjoyed the benefits of social security, Medicare, pensions, etc. Then thank the welfare state.

Have you ever benefited from being protected by insurance? Then thank the welfare state.

Have you ever traveled public highways, used public utilities, enjoyed commercial media such as TV and radio? Thank the welfare state.

Have you, your children, your parents or your grandparents attended public schools? Thank the welfare state.

Have you ever enjoyed national or state parks, forests, beaches? Thank the welfare state.

Is your air, water and soil cleaner than it once was? Thank the welfare state.

Are you secure in knowing that, if necessary, the military will defend your freedoms? Thank the welfare state.

Do you feel comforted knowing that if you lose everything, there is a church, charity, or non-profit you might turn to for assistance? Thank the welfare state.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gas prices and the Keystone XL Pipeline

Is it merely coincidence that gas prices have been escalating at alarming rates (with few justifications in the underlying fundamentals), precisely as the oil industry is trying to ram through approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline? Experts cite concerns about Iran's threat to shut down the Straits of Hormuz. And speculators play a larger role than ever (despite restrictions that were to be applied to speculators under Dodd-Frank.) But the run-up in prices at the pump defy explanation with these factors alone. After all, Americans are burning substantially less gasoline than in the recent past.

We have here the perfect timing. A Presidential Campaign in which the opposition candidates can stoke the fears of their constituents. Americans are being warned that $5.00-a-gallon gasoline may be just around the corner. But if we build the pipeline, prices will come down. (And Newt Gingrich tells us he'll deliver $2.50 gasoline to Americans!)

I think what we are seeing here is TransCanada (the pipeline owner) doing the bidding of the petroleum oligopoly. The oil companies need their Alberta tar sands oil to reach the world market (not necessarily the American market, which is already glutted to such an extent that we are exporting gasoline.)

It's curious that one of TransCanada's lobbyists formerly worked as a deputy campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, and that it is Clinton's State Department that ultimately makes the call on the international pipeline treaty. And the Obama campaign has hired another former TransCanada lobbyist for his 2012 Presidential bid.

The tar sands oil production is unlikely, in the near term, to impact the global market price for oil. There won't be enough of it flowing. And it is NOT in the interest of oil companies to increase production to the point of putting downward pressure on oil prices.

But the Keystone XL pipeline (and the embattled Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline across British Columbia) will deliver some of the heaviest and dirtiest oil to refineries, enabling Canada to sell on the world market. The risks of spills and pollution from refining are born by the people along the pipeline's route. Land stolen by eminent domain will subsidize the oil companies. The price of gasoline is unlikely to fall, as this is set according to global supply and demand, the product flowing to the highest bidders.

For the oil companies, time is of the essence. The relatively new tar sands industry is largely unregulated. But as the world community awakens to the devastation being visited upon the Canada's boreal forests, and the immense conversion of sequestered to free atmospheric CO2 resulting from this mining, the tar sands mining will eventually be severely curtailed, if not terminated.