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The Planet

Permissive Permits Will Hurt Wetlands

Permits likely to favor developers over wetlands; mountaintop removal over mitigation.

America's wetlands provide something for everyone -- they filter harmful pollutants from our drinking water, protect communities from flooding and provide life-sustaining habitat to fish and wildlife. The values and functions wetlands provide to our environment and our economy, while not easily quantified, are immense. Yet, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics, the nation is losing 58,500 acres of wetlands, on average, each year.

Unfortunately, recent actions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and inaction by the Bush Administration may even accelerate those losses.

On Jan. 15, 2002, the Bush Administration weakened the Clean Water Actís Nationwide Permit (NWP) program. The new nationwide permits allow the Corps to waive many of the environmental conditions adopted in March 2000 that were meant to limit the use of these permits, and they continue activities that damage or destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and miles of streams every year.

"The Corps turned a deaf ear to concerns that their proposal would accelerate losses of wetlands and streams, leading to poorer water quality, increased flood vulnerability and lost critical wildlife habitat," said Robin Mann, chair of the Clubís Wetands Working Group. "For the most part, the Corps chose to listen instead to the sprawl developers, mining companies and other industry groups, making the quick-permitting of wetlands and stream destruction even easier."

The NWP program provides expedited permitting, without full environmental review or public notice, for certain activities that damage and destroy wetlands and streams. The Clean Water Act gives the Corps the authority to use general permits, such as the NWPs, to authorize activities that result in minimal individual and cumulative impacts to the environment. But many of the permits often authorize activities that have more than a minimal impact on the environment, including roadbuilding, sprawl development projects and mountaintop removal mining.

Take Action:

The good news is there are still ways we can limit the damage that NWPs cause at the regional and state level. Find out more about wetland permits and how you can effect wetlands rules in your state or contact George Sorvalis at

Norton Overturns Mining Victory

Glamis Mine would threaten wildlife habitat, sacred land

By Laura Fauth

A year ago, Sierra Club volunteer Edie Harmon and fellow mining activists thought they had won a historic victory when outgoing Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt denied a plan for the Glamis Imperial Mine Project in southeastern California. His decision marked the first time the federal government had denied a major mining project on lands covered by the 1872 Mining Law. The victory was short-lived. In November 2001, Interior Secretary Gale Norton reversed Babbitt's decision.

Harmon and others have spent the last six years working to stop Glamis Imperial Corporations' proposed gold mine on 1,600 acres of wildlife habitat and land sacred to the Quechan tribe. The 20-year project would involve 880-foot-deep pits, 300-foot-high waste piles, heavy machinery operating 24 hours a day and the use of toxic cyanide to leach gold from mounds of rock.

Babbitt's denial of the mine plan was based on a policy opinion prepared by a Clinton administration Interior Department lawyer, which found that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could reject the mine for causing "undue impairment" of cultural or environmental resources. Specifically, the Interior Department's Record of Decision on the mine outlines significant and unmitigable impacts the mine would have on the area's visual resources, historic sites and tribal sacred sites.

Less than a year later, the Interior Department Solicitor in the Bush administration released a legal opinion maintaining that the BLM did not have authority to deny the mine based on concerns about "undue impairment." Norton used this legal opinion to overturn Babbitt's decision and repeal the extensive Record of Decision. Fortunately, Norton's action does not necessarily mean the mine will be approved. In addition to passing a validity review to determine if the project would be profitable, Glamis still needs Norton to approve the proposed mine plan before the company can move forward with the project.

According to Harmon, the proposed Imperial Valley mine site is "not an appropriate place for an open pit mine under any circumstances."

The Quechan adamantly oppose the mine, which would destroy their ability to practice their traditional religion at the area's sacred sites. According to the tribe's oral history, ancient trails connecting sacred geographical features intersect there. One of the trails links the Quechan's original home at Spirit Mountain to their current home.

Bordered by two designated wilderness areas, the fragile desert region also provides important wildlife habitat. Mature Ironwood and Palo Verde trees provide an ideal roosting place for migratory birds, while wide washes provide a fawning ground for desert deer and wash sides provide burrow sites for the threatened desert tortoise.

The Glamis mine project is a glaring example of the need for reform of the 1872 Mining Law, something the Club has long advocated. The antiquated law contains no environmental protection provisions and allows mining companies to purchase mineral rich public land for $2.50 to $5.00 an acre -- 1872 prices -- with no royalty payments of any kind. Glamis estimates that the Imperial Valley site holds 3 million ounces of gold, worth about $820 million at present values.

Take Action:

Write Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Tell her that you were disappointed by her decision to rescind the 2001 Record of Decision that denied the proposed Glamis Imperial Mine Project. Urge her to reject the mine based on the project's environmental and cultural impacts.

Send your letters to The Honorable Gale Norton, Secretary, Department of the Interior, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240.

Park Service Raises Ante on Lake Powell's Antelope Point

By Sarah Wootton

On the shores of Lake Powell, the reservoir formed by the Colorado River upstream from Glen Canyon Dam, a clash is brewing over the best use of the national recreation area's available shoreline.

The National Park Service has proposed the construction of an expansive marina on Antelope Point, complete with space for up to 400 houseboats, 150 RVs and 800 other vehicles. A coalition of environmentalists organized by Living Rivers question whether the project is needed, whether it would exacerbate safety and pollution issues on the reservoir, and whether it would harm the Navajo Nation community that partly owns the site.

"There is already a marina nearby, and visitation at the reservoir is declining," says John Weisheit, chair of the Grand Canyon Group. "Developing Antelope Point is a major project and the Park Service should be doing a full environmental impact statement instead of a brief environmental assessment." The plan also calls for two large tour boats, a 200-room lodging complex, food service and a sewage system.

The Park Service project is planned on assumptions made in a 1979 General Management Plan for the recreation area -- many of which are outdated, says Weisheit, who recommends that a new management plan reflecting current needs be drafted.

Other concerns include potential watercraft-related injuries due to Antelope Point's location on a narrow river channel -- the coalition points out that it would be an ideal non-motorized use area -- and the likely extensive pollution generated from hundreds of additional boats and RVs. And, while the Park Service insists that part of the project's purpose is to benefit the Navajo, the coalition questions how much the tribe will benefit from the introduction of the sale of alcoholic beverages and a proposed casino. Two grassroots Navajo groups oppose the proposed construction.

Take Action:

Write the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Superintendent and urge her to prepare an EIS for the project and consider a full range of alternatives that address the environmental, cultural, economic and safety concerns of a new marina. Tell her that you support designating Antelope Point as a non-motorized area. Send comments to Ms. Kitty Roberts, Superintendent, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, National Park Service, P.O. Box 1507, Page, AZ 86040.

For more information, contact the Plateau Group co-chairs at and or the Glen Canyon Group chair at

Photo of Dan Farough courtesy Dan Farough

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