UPDATE: The following letter was used as part of an online fundraising campaign launched by Laura Gauger in September 2014 to help cover her share of court costs awarded to Rio Tinto in a Clean Water Act case waged against the company in late 2010 by the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and herself. Within just three weeks of time, Laura’s fundraising goal of $20,500 had been met due a tremendous outpouring of public support! Laura’s fundraising letter remains posted here for informational purposes only.
GREAT LAKES WOMAN PUNISHED FOR STANDING UP FOR CLEAN WATER
Ordered to Pay Mining Company’s Court Costs, Seeks Community Support
by Laura Gauger (September, 2014)
I am a citizen plaintiff in a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Rio Tinto, one of the largest multinational mining corporations in the world. The case involved illegal discharges of pollutants into a stream at the company’s Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin.
My fellow plaintiffs and I won the case in U.S. District Court and exposed Rio Tinto’s highly touted “model mine” for what it is – just one more example of how metallic sulfide mines always pollute. The ruling, however, was overturned on a technicality, and now the court is ordering the plaintiffs, including me as an individual, to pay the polluter’s court costs. The bill is over $60,000, and my share is $20,500.
This is an assault to all citizen activists, and that is why I am writing to you today. I am raising funds to show corporate polluters that they cannot ride roughshod over people like me who are simply trying to protect public waters.
If polluters can get away with bullying even one citizen for trying to enforce the Clean Water Act, it will make it more difficult for all of us to protect our drinking water, lakes and streams. Not only will it have a chilling effect on the ability and willingness of ordinary citizens to speak up, but on the lawyers we need to help us.
Don’t let Rio Tinto or any other polluter silence the little guy. Please click HERE to make your tax-deductible donation today. It will take you to a donation page hosted by Midwest Environmental Advocates, a non-profit environmental law center that kindly agreed to serve as my fiscal sponsor* for this fundraising project.
So how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who currently lives in Duluth, Minnesota get saddled with a big bill from a multinational mining corporation headquartered in London?
The answer to that question is rooted in a chance encounter I had in 1997 with a gentleman by the name of Roscoe Churchill. I was living in northern Wisconsin at the time and had heard about a new copper-zinc mine that Exxon wanted to build in the neighborhood. I didn’t know much about mining, but it concerned me that a known polluter like Exxon was trying to muscle its way into my home state.
I went to a meeting about Exxon’s proposal, and that’s where I had the good fortune of meeting Roscoe. He was 81 at the time, had been fighting Rio Tinto for two decades over development of the Flambeau Mine and was now fighting Exxon as well. Roscoe gladly shared his knowledge of the mining industry and its tactics with me and fast became my mentor and guide.
Roscoe was all about protecting the water and the “little ones” whose voices often are not heard by those in power.
He taught me to do the same.
When Roscoe died in 2007, I made a commitment to continue the work in which both of us so completely believed. That’s what led me to team up with the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council to push for the filing of a lawsuit against Rio Tinto in early 2011 over violations of the Clean Water Act at the company’s Flambeau Mine.
The court case was rough going at times … lots of bills and lots of stress. But it was love – a love for the water, a love for the “little ones” and, yes, a love for my pal, Roscoe – that helped me keep going and see this thing through to the end.
This project was never just about us here in Wisconsin … it was about trying to help clean water advocates in the entire Great Lakes region and beyond protect their own waters from being despoiled by mining companies.
You see, the mining industry has held up the Flambeau Mine to the people of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Alaska and who knows where else around the world as an example of “environmentally responsible” mining in efforts to convince local citizens to let them in. Our lawsuit was meant to bring out the facts about the serious water pollution problems at the Flambeau Mine site, thereby debunking the myth of the “environmentally responsible” Flambeau Mine and giving those citizens ammunition to use in their own battles.
We succeeded … but now we are being punished.
In 2012 the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin found Rio Tinto to be in violation of the Clean Water Act on numerous counts at the Flambeau Mine site. Unfortunately, however, the company challenged the ruling, and the U.S. Court of Appeals proceeded to let them off the hook.
The Court of Appeals did not dispute the lower court’s finding that Rio Tinto had discharged contaminated runoff from the Flambeau Mine site into public waters on an ongoing basis since at least 2006. Rather, the decision was based on a technicality that, in effect, allowed errors made by the State of Wisconsin in its administration of the Clean Water Act to shield Rio Tinto from prosecution.
In the process, no one was held accountable for the fact that the stream at the heart of our lawsuit (a tributary of the Flambeau River) has been added to the EPA’s list of “impaired waters” due to copper and zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau Mine operation.
It seems the only people being punished for Rio Tinto’s misdeeds are those who brought the problem to the attention of the courts. Yes, now the court is ordering me – a regular citizen just like you – to pay a substantial portion of Rio Tinto’s litigation costs and expenses.
Of course, my income is nothing compared to a well-heeled, multinational mining company. I spent a lot of my own money on the case over the past several years and could really use some help in paying my share of this latest bill.
Will you help me today by making a tax-deductible donation? Please CLICK HERE. As explained earlier, it will take you to a donation page hosted by Midwest Environmental Advocates, a non-profit environmental law center that kindly agreed to serve as my fiscal sponsor* for this fundraising project.
Nothing would please me more than to receive a zillion small donations. That’s what grassroots activism is all about, right?
Don’t let Rio Tinto and the courts silence the little guy – please make your tax-deductible donation today.
* Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) is a non-profit environmental law firm that graciously agreed to serve as my fiscal sponsor for this fundraising project. As such, MEA will receive and deposit all amounts which have been raised specifically for the purposes of this project and then transfer the funds to an account explicitly dedicated to paying my share of the court costs awarded to Rio Tinto. Midwest Environmental Advocates will not subtract any administrative fees, so your entire donation will go toward helping me. In the unlikely event that any monies remain, the funds will be used to support other clean water advocates who are on the line … because we are all in this together! You will receive a receipt from MEA for your donation. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.