Golds Glitter - FOREIGN DESK Behind Gold's Glitter: Torn...

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FOREIGN DESK Behind Gold's Glitter: Torn Lands and Pointed Questions By JANE PERLEZAND KIRK JOHNSON; SOMINI SENGUPTA CONTRIBUTED REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI FOR THIS ARTICLE. (NYT) 5745 words Published: October 24, 2005 In the early 1500's, King Ferdinand of Spain laid down the priorities as his conquistadors set out for the New World. ''Get gold,'' he told them, ''Humanely if possible, but at all costs, get gold.'' In that long and tortuous history, gold has now arrived at a new moment of opportunity and peril. The price of gold is higher than it has been in 17 years -- pushing $500 an ounce. But much of the gold left to be mined is microscopic and is being wrung from the earth at enormous environmental cost, often in some of the poorest corners of the world. And unlike past gold manias, from the time of the pharoahs to the forty-niners, this one has little to do with girding empires, economies or currencies. It is almost all about the soaring demand for jewelry in places like China and India, which consume 80 percent or more of gold mined today. The extravagance of the moment is provoking a storm among environmental groups and communities near the mines, and forcing even some at Tiffany & Company and the world's largest mining companies to confront uncomfortable questions about the real costs of mining gold. ''The biggest challenge we face is the absence of a set of clearly defined, broadly accepted standards for environmentally and socially responsible mining,'' said Tiffany's chairman, Michael Kowalski. He took out a full-page advertisement last year urging miners to make ''urgently needed'' reforms. Consider a ring. For that one ounce of gold, miners dig up and haul away 30 tons of rock and sprinkle it with diluted cyanide, which culls the rock from the gold. Before they are through, miners at some of the largest mines move a half million tons of earth a day, pile it in mounds that can rival the Great Pyramids, and drizzle the ore with the poisonous solution for years. The scars of open-pit mining on this scale endure. Hard-rock mining generates more toxic waste than any other industry in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency estimated last year that the cost of cleaning up metal mines could reach $54 billion. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office chastised the agency and said legal loopholes, corporate shells and weak federal oversight had compounded the costs and increased the chances that mining companies could walk away without paying for cleanups and pass the bill to taxpayers. ''Mining problems weren't considered a very high priority'' in past decades, Thomas P. Dunne, the agency's acting assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response, said in an interview. ''But they are a concern now.''
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With the costs and scrutiny of mining on the rise in rich countries, where the best ores have been depleted, 70 percent of gold is now mined in developing countries like Guatemala and Ghana. It is there,
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Golds Glitter - FOREIGN DESK Behind Gold's Glitter: Torn...

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