Yesterday Ky Plaskon visited a Nevada Gold mine and explored some of the environmental controversy surrounding one of Nevada's most profitable industries. One way the industry maintains favor in the state is by donating to politicians like most industries do. Mining donated more than 4-million to congress and 100-thosand dollars to Nevada politicians last year. Another way mining companies gain favor is through educating children about the industry. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
SOUND: Hi kids, I'm Gus and I'm the head miner here . . .
PLASKON: On a hot morning in Henderson 2nd graders listen to an automated manikin at the mouth of a building that looks like a big rock. When the recording is over, a guide takes over.
GUIDE: The next thing we do is go into the active blasting area. This is where it
is dark and I would like everyone to turn their lights on so that we can see
better back in here.
PLASKON: The children put on hard hats with headlamps. The mine is like a haunted house, dark and scary. As the children pass through, their movement triggers the cackling of more manikins dressed as miners crouched in the rafters above them.
MANIKIN: Ha ha ha ha ha
CHILD: AAAH. There is nothing scary about you!
NELSON: He snuck up on you did he?
PLASKON: This is just one aspect of the McCaw School of Mines, a non-profit corporation offering field trips for children. The site is a replica of an old mining town.
GUIDE: 200 hundred foot level.
PLASKON: The children pretend to ride in a mining elevator. It is actually a platform on a spring. They also watch a video featuring mining explosives.
VIDEO HOST: Wow, they sure made short work of that!
VIDEO MUSIC: Disco
VIDEO SOUND: Explosion
PLASKON: More than 40-thousand children have been through the school.
CHILD: I think that it's real cool.
CHILD2: This place is awesome.
PLASKON: This was one of the last groups of second graders to attend the mining field trip. The school district decided that second graders can't understand the message and field trips in general have declined.
HOLLOWAY: I do firmly believe that there are very few schools that have field trips anymore.
PLASKON: Clark County Education Association President Mary Ella Holloway says children in Clark County used to go on regular field trips to sites such as the Hoover Dam, bottling, bread, chocolate and marshmallow factories and plays at UNLV. But not anymore.
HOLLOWAY: Because the school district doesn't want to spend the money on the school buses for the field trips.
PLASKON: With less funding for field trips, corporately funded field trips are very tempting according to the school district. Coordinator Dorothy Webb says the field trip started up because Nevada history lessons about mining were difficult for children to grasp. Mining companies were eager to get their message out to children from the start.
WEBB: One child wrote a letter and said 'Dear Rich Person, would you give us some of your money.' That rich friend sent us 15-thousand dollars to get started.
PLASKON: Over the past eight years mining companies have invested 2 million dollars to build the school of mines. Every year they pay the 120-thousand dollar operating costs. The names of the companies that pay the school's bills are everywhere, including tractor maker CAT and Round Mountain Gold Corporation. Guides even point out the company names and then tell children how primitive life would be without these mining companies.
GUIDE: I would like to ask you one question though. If there was not a mine in the world today how would you get back to school? You would have to walk wouldn't you? There would be no bus. If you got home tonight, there would be no TV, no bicycle, mother is going to cook for you, there is no stove. Momma would
have to go into the back yard and light a wood fire wouldn't she. So you are
going to see a sign later on, if it can't be grown, it has to be mined. And
so you pick up something if it can't be grown, it has to be mined.
ROSEN: We have a situation where metals mining and particularly gold mining is the most highly polluting industry in the nation and 80 percent of the nation's gold mining happens in Nevada.
PLASKON: Elyssa Rosen is Executive Director of the environmental group Great Basin Mine Watch
ROSEN: Its no wonder that the industry wants to repair a tarnished image by bringing pro-industry materials into the classroom.
PLASKON: Rosen says the field trip is biased and doesn't mention environmental consequences of mining. For instance there are an anticipated 450 million dollars worth of clean up costs from uninsured and bonded mines currently operating in the state. There is the clean up of a mine in Yerington recently taken over by the EPA for high levels of radioactivity seeping into one towns' wells. On top of that, EPA tests have shown that high levels of mercury from Nevada gold mines have polluted neighboring states. Elizondo Elementary Second Grade Teacher Sima Stein sees what's missing from the field trip.
STEIN: Well I am going to go back and we are going to do the environment, you
know, how to protect the environment. You know how important it is to take
care of our natural resources and that part we will do when we get back.
PLASKON: The school district leaves it up to teachers like Stein to find more balanced educational materials. The field trips' web site does have a link described as offering debates between environmentalists and mining companies. But it doesn't work. Second grade teacher Sima Stein said its difficult to compete with the mining industry's message in the well-financed field trip.
DOBRY: Doesn't bother me in the slightest, ha ha ha.
PLASKON: Principal at Robert Taylor Elementary Dr. Janet Dobry helped set up the non-profit that runs the mining field trip. She says the school district doesn't have any control over what is taught there, even though it sits on school district property.
DOBRY: I think that it is factual information that is being presented there we talk about environmental concerns and the whole works so I think kids get a pretty straight forward look at the mining industry.
PLASKON: She says nearly anything could be turned into a lesson for children - a corporately funded field trip to a make believe casino could be turned into a great math lesson.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR