Environmental News Items: Hells Canyon Dam, Death Valley Mining, and More

A report on a long-running battle over the proposed Hells Canyon Dam and pending legislation to protect Death Valley from mining are among the environmental news items excerpted from the Friends of the Earth newsletter.

| March/April 1976

The following environmental news items were excerpted from Not Man Apart, a newsletter published by Friends of the Earth.

Long Battle Over Hells Canyon Dam Ends in Victory!

Ever since 1946 utility companies have been drooling over the idea of producing hydroelectric power for the Northwest by damming the portion of the Snake River that runs through Hells Canyon, a project which would flood the gorge itself (the country's deepest) and turn it into a reservoir. Conservationists, of course, have been fighting the plan tooth and nail for just as long. Now recent Congressional action appears to have (finally!) assured success for "our side."

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to ban all dam construction anywhere on the free-flowing part of the Middle Snake River, and—better yet—to create a 670,000-acre Hells Canyon National Recreation Area along the region where the Snake separates Oregon from Idaho. The Senate had previously approved (by unanimous vote) a similar measure, so now all that remains is to have the two Houses iron out minor differences and send the result to the President for him to sign. Environmental battles do sometimes drag on (the Hells Canyon tussle lasted nearly twenty-nine years), but victories such as this one make all the effort more than worthwhile.

Death Valley Mining

Four months after Death Valley was made a national monument (in 1933), Congress passed a law that opened the area to mining. The measure was originally intended to preserve the romantic tradition of the "single-blanket jackass prospector," but today that Old West institution has been replaced by ever-accelerating large-scale strip mining.

Tenneco Corporation's first (and largest} open mine (called the "Boraxo Pit") is now 3,000 feet long, 600 feet wide, 230 feet deep, and growing fast. The company plans to expand its operations fivefold in the next few years. Three talc-producing outfits have followed Tenneco's dig-and-scrape lead, and now leave piles of white waste glittering against the dark—and formerly beautiful—background. In fact, there are more than 1,827 "digging" claims in Death Valley today, and over two hundred new ones are flied each year.

Nevertheless, the. operators involved know they're fighting against the clock. Environmentalists are currently supporting legislation—introduced by Senator Lee Metcalf (of Montana), Congressman Morris Udall (of Arizona), and Congressman John Seiberling (of Ohio)—that would protect Death Valley and five other parks and monuments. In the meantime, however—while the lawmaking process drags on, with no guarantee of success—the corporate "biggies" are getting all they can, while they can. Crews are working around the clock. And Tenneco even took the offensive (and we do mean "offensive") by asking the National Park Service to build overlooks by their pits so visitors could gaze at "modern mining." Talk about chutzpah!

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