As we residents of Nevada County struggle to adapt to extreme drought, heat waves, water shortages, periodic power outages, and threat of forest fires, Rise Gold is trying to persuade us that reopening the Idaho-Maryland mine would do us good. Yet regardless of its recent flawed and deceptive survey, the mine would negatively affect the community in many ways, including in our ability to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
In June, our region got a taste of a record-shattering heat wave which, further north, led to many deaths. We are in a historic “severe to exceptional drought,” resulting in depleted reservoirs and mandatory water restrictions. Fire insurance rates are skyrocketing and policies are being cancelled as fire season extends to almost year-round and as wildfires become ever-more ferocious, burning more acres. Even as we pack our go-bags and create fire safe spaces around our homes, we know that catastrophic forest fires could come at any time. Reopening the mine would only make these climate-related impacts worse.
The leaked report of the 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of “progressively serious, centuries’ long and, in some cases, irreversible consequences” that will impact people around the world with multiple climate calamities at once: drought, heatwaves, cyclones, wildfires and flooding, leading to widespread hunger and disease. So far, the earth’s average global temperature has risen slightly over 1 degree Celsius, which is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Just imagine what it will be like if it rises to 3 or 4 degrees Celsius! The IPCC report warns, “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems… humans cannot.”
Nevada County has had the foresight to respond proactively by adopting the Nevada County Energy Action Plan, which was developed by the Sierra Business Council, with support from PG&E, in collaboration with Nevada County and community members. The plan, based on scientific climate forecasts in the context of our region, states: “From record temperatures to proliferating wildfires and changing precipitation patterns, climate change poses an immediate and escalating threat to the region’s environment, economic strength, and public health.”
The plan is intended to “guide local government decisions that will help achieve greater efficiency, reduce costs, and demonstrate the County’s commitment to energy independence and community resilience” and to “inspire residents, businesses, and other public agencies in Nevada County to participate in community efforts and maximize energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water efficiency.”
This plan should guide analysis and decision-making about the mine as it relates to climate. It points to goals, strategies, and ways to implement policies that will enable us, as a community, to adapt to projected climatic changes and mitigate harm by lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But reopening the mine would take us in the opposite direction.
Adapting to climate change means developing resiliency so that we human beings, our fellow creatures, and coming generations can survive and thrive as much as possible. This means carefully preserving our region’s air, land, and water. The mine would further pollute our air, replace life-sustaining ecosystems with mine waste, and deplete our precious groundwater, putting wells at risk and sending millions of gallons of treated wastewater daily down Wolf Creek. Adaptation means generating sustainable forms of livelihood, housing, education, business, agriculture, and more—locally-based as much as possible—and moving away from fossil fuels to justly-sourced renewable power. Many community members, local businesses, and local nonprofits are working to attain just such a vision. Rise Gold’s extractive business model does not align with these goals.
Because it is a global problem, we must also do our part to mitigate the harm of climate change by reducing our regional carbon footprint. The Nevada County Energy Action Plan calls for gradually reducing annual residential electric use by 12 percent. Rise Gold’s projected electrical use would cancel out this goal by annually using electricity equivalent to 5,000 new homes and could strain our already overburdened power grid.
Even more significant would be the massive carbon emissions caused by diesel-powered heavy equipment used for: constant construction during the first year and half; ongoing continuous excavating, underground blasting, drilling, rock crushing, loading, hauling, unloading, spreading, and compacting to create engineered fill up to seven stories tall; continuous mine de-watering by pumping, treating, and sending millions of gallons of wastewater down Wolf Creek; increased new diesel truck traffic (up to 100 round trips a day, seven days a week, sixteen hours a day). This would result in significant increases of GHG emissions rather than decreases as outlined in the County’s Energy Action Plan.
Please, let’s put this debate to rest once and for all and not waste everyone’s time and energy by pretending we should seriously consider reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine every time another penny-stock company comes along to propose it. The County has taken a proactive approach with its plan to foster resiliency and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. Let’s not turn back now.
Sharon Delgado is a local retired United Methodist pastor and author of Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice (Fortress Press, 2017). Her blog is at sharondelgado.org.
Nevada County Energy Action Plan, https://www.mynevadacounty.com/DocumentCenter/View/35183/Nevada-County-Energy-Action-Plan
Minewatch Nevada County, https://www.minewatchnc.org/
Community Environmental Advocates, https://www.cea-nc.org/
Yale Climate Connections, July 1, 2021, https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2021/07/western-canada-burns-and-deaths-mount-after-worlds-most-extreme-heat-wave-in-modern-history/