Monday, August 10, 2015

The legacy of John Galt

People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo., in water colored from a mine waste spill. Credit Jerry Mcbride/The Durango Herald, via Associated Press
A whole lot of unbloggable stuff is happening chez BMGM and I hesitate to blog about something that makes me angry.  I have a ton of work to do, both at my paid job and at home.

But, this review of Ayn Rand’s ‘Ideal’ Presents a Protagonist Familiar in Her Superiority on top of all the unchallenged bullshit people are saying about the Animas River toxic spill pushed me over the edge.
In short, Kay Gonda is one of Rand’s Nietzschean protagonists — an über-frau who has fans, not friends, and who thinks that she towers above all the losers and “second-handers” who populate the world.
“Kay Gonda does not cook her own meals or knit her own underwear. She does not play golf, adopt babies, or endow hospitals for homeless horses. She is not kind to her dear old mother — she has no dear old mother."
To admit to having a mother would be to admit that one owes the debt of life to a 'second-hander'.

Literary Background

John Galt is the protagonist in Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged (plot summary).  The business men who really create value go on strike against 'second-handers' who want a share of the wealth they created.  They hole up in 'Galt's Gulch', a town in southwest Colorado, near Durango, while the country collapses without them.

Ayn Rand has a Colorado fixation.  She thinks it is the land of wealth grabbers creators like Howard Roark and John Galt.

It's no coincidence that this week's mine waste spill is in John Galt country.

Mining Background

Colorado has created a lot of wealth.  But, the unique geology of the region and the indulgence and assistance of the federal government had a lot more to do with it than the men Ayn Rand credits.

Precious metals are largely mined where the earth folds, e.g. in the mountains. In fact, Colorado gets it's name from the Colorado River, which means the colorful river. The color comes from minerals. Guess what came out of Silverton and Leadville, CO.

Cyanide is used to leach heavy metals out of ore.  Mining industry websites (that are high on Google search rankings but not on impartial information) claim that cyanide is used in dilute quantities of only a measly 0.05%.  I don't even want to link to them lest I push their search ranking higher.

They don't report the large quantities of water involved in mining.  That dilute chemical stew?  Suppose the 3 million gallons estimated to have leaked in this spill contained 0.05% sodium cyanide by weight and that the chemical stew has roughly the same specific gravity as pure water.  (This is only a back of the envelope estimate because evaporation could concentrate the cyanide and rain could dilute it.)

3 million gallons is 1.13562e7 liters or about 1.13562e7 kg.
0.05% is 0.0005*1.13562e7 = 5,678.1 kilograms

5,678 kilograms of sodium cyanide sounds a lot less benign than 0.05%, doesn't it?

It gets worse.  The heavy metals are probably more hazardous to human health than the cyanide in the river.

That yellow color probably comes from sulfur, which is released in the mining process.  It makes for a dramatic picture, but I'm more worried about the stuff we can't see.

The Legal Background

WaPost gives some background in What the EPA was doing when it sent yellow sludge spilling into a Colorado creek.
Ginny Brannon, director of the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, told the Denver Post that until 1977, Colorado had few laws requiring mining companies to deal with the wastewater they created.

“Folks could go out and do what they want and walk away from the sites, and this is one of them,” she said.
After the John Galts of the world were done doing unspeakable things to the land, they let someone else deal with their damage.
The Animas River Stakeholders Group that was set up to deal with the issue after the mines were closed, which includes Sunnyside Gold Corp., didn’t have the estimated $12 million to $15 million it would take to treat the contaminated runoff. And for years, Silverton residents resisted EPA involvement out of fear that the “Superfund” label given to the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites would jeopardize the tourism industry — the only source of income that could replace the vanished mines. A few even hoped that the mines would reopen one day.

Meanwhile supporters of EPA intervention accused Sunnyside of stonewalling the cleanup attempt to avoid liability.

The two sides reached an agreement of sorts this year. The mines would not be designated a Superfund site, and the EPA would provide $1.5 billion to plug the problematic Red and Bonita mine, where polluted water drained at a rate of 500 gallons per minute, according to the Durango Herald.
That's $1.5 BILLION of federal dollars to clean up one mine site that isn't even designated a Superfund site.

It gets even worse.  Colorado has thousands of mines and hundreds of Superfund sites.  The EPA archive lists 237 Colorado Superfund sites where the cleanup was performed with federal dollars after the perpetrators fled (either before laws were in force or by declaring bankruptcy after making the money they earned disappear).  Nationwide, we have spent trillions cleaning up after the John Galts of this world.

The Media Background

People say stupid bullshit like in this LA Times Story.
“There is usually wave after wave of people floating past, but today nothing,” said Sairi Dwyer, 32, watching the yellow water roll past. “The EPA causes all of this and then they say, ‘Oh well’ and nothing happens. If you or I did this or anything close we’d be in jail.”
Even the headlines in the NY Times (the Times!) give the impression that the Feds caused this mess.

Actually, the people who created this mess are not in jail. In fact, no one has been sent to jail for this mess, or any other of the thousands of toxic sites in Colorado.  They took the money (precious metals) and ran, leaving you and me on the hook for the billions (perhaps trillions in total) that it takes to clean up after them.

Moreover, they didn't even tell us what they did before they fled the scene of their environmental crimes.  The EPA created the breach while probing the site to figure out just how bad the mess was.  The earthen dam gave way precisely because it was in such a precarious state to begin with.

Yes, the 'nanny state' that objectivists rail against is paying for the 'externalities' aka messes of these selfish ingrates.

The BMGM Background

I hate it when people propagate bullshit and get away with it.  It's especially egregious when the errors are in major papers.  Reporters should actually report rather than ape back erroneous opinions.  Fact-checkers should check facts.  Editors should edit.  How does so much bullshit get published?

Read my (anti) bullshit series.  Join the pushback against bullshit.


Ever heard of Coors beer?  The one that advertises that the beer is made from pure Rocky Mountain spring water?  Did you know that the Coors bottling plant near Golden, Colorado had to shut off one of their water intake sources after a mine tailing spill from an upstream uranium mine?

As an English visiting professor put it, "Colorado is a beautiful place with unspeakable things done to it."


The Colorado Water Blog is much more conversant with this issue than me.  Read The Orange Animas.


  1. thank you.. I had the same reaction. Now the EPA is on the hook for the damage done by mining bandits who made off with the gold ?
    Why are the mining bandits not on the hook ?
    This is a sort of reverse socialism, private profits and public losses. Bullshit is a word for it..

  2. Anonymous15:05

    I was hesitant to read your post because the whole thing infuriates me but did and now we are mad together.

    AND I was just thinking about Coors Beer.....and all that clean Colorado water. Grrrrr.


  3. Once again, I sincerely thank you, BMGM! I kept asking myself, "why would the EPA have anything to do with mining...unless they were cleaning it up?". You have given us a true picture of the actual situation that led up to this. It is reprehensible that the media is not giving the full story on this horrible disaster and shown were most of the blame actually lay.
    By the way, when I was young and had a summer job in an office mailroom, the supervisor gave me Atlas Shrugged to read; his philosophy of life. What utter pap! I happened to be reading The Grapes of Wrath at the same time.


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