"Corporate Predator" Dissected

Freeport Makes The Nation

Have I talked about Freeport-McMoRan lately? Well, I'm sorry if I haven't, because our friends from New Orleans are the subject of a long article in the new issue of The Nation magazine. The July 31 article, by Eyal Press, includes a rundown of the recent murders near the company's gold and copper mine in Indonesia, as well as its efforts to derail the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and other legislation.

"Freeport is the picture of modern corporatism, heedless of country or flag, ruthless in pursuit of profit," writes Press. He says that after the murders and/or disappearances of 37 local villagers at the Freeport mine in Irian Jaya, the Indonesia government ordered 2,000 Amungme people living near the mine to leave their homes for relocation. "It was a familiar action, one in a series of forced removals that began in 1967, when Freeport was granted the right to exploit Irian Jaya's mineral resources." Irian Jaya is located on the island of New Guinea.

Press reports that Freeport recently got a 30-year renewal on its mining contract with Indonesia. He then quotes Freeport CEO and former UT football player Jim Bob Moffett, who said the contract renewal was "thrusting a spear of economic development into the heartland of Irian Jaya." An interesting choice of words.

Over the past 12 years, Press says, Freeport's political action committees have given more than $730,000 to members of Congress, particularly those who are advancing legislation that favors Indonesia or pushing legislation to weaken environmental regulation. And Press points out that Freeport's gold mining money is buying lots of public relations people to promote a warm and fuzzy corporate image. He points out that Freeport has hired numerous former journalists, including former Louisiana TV reporters Garland Robinette and Gerard Braud, and here in Austin, former reporter for the local daily Bill Collier.

While the company's local activities are well known to most Austinites, Press' article puts Freeport's national and international activities in perspective. Check it out. n KIDS' ENVIRONMENTAL INDEX: No one has ever accused Lubbock and Plano of being the promised land. But a new report by Zero Population Growth (ZPG) calls them the two best places in Texas to raise children.

Using a combination of factors like crime, educational opportunities, toxic emissions, and air and water quality, the group rated 207 U.S. cities on their friendliness toward children. The best city was Madison, WI, followed by Burlington, VT; Stamford, CT; Fargo, ND; and Lincoln, NB. The worst were San Bernardino, CA; Newark, NJ; and Long Beach, CA.

Austin ranked 35th, primarily because of its low scores on education, the number of children living in poverty, and the high teen birth rate. ZPG figures show that 14.5% of all babies in Austin are born to teenagers, and that 21.5% of the city's children live in poverty. Austin's high school drop-out rate of 15.5% was more than double that of Madison, while spending on a per-student basis was only 61% of what the Wisconsin city spends.

For a copy of the report, write: ZPG, 1400 16th St. NW, Ste. 320, Washington, D.C. 20036. n ECOLOGY ACTION ON THE MOVE. By September, there really won't be any excuses for not recycling all your office paper, cans, bottles, and other would-be trash. Ecology Action, Austin's long-time leader in recycling, announced last week that it will open a full-service, drive-through recycling collection facility at the corner of I-35 and East Ninth Street The new facility will include services that you used to get at gas stations: pull in, and Ecology Action workers will unload your recyclables while you stay in your car. Ecology Action hopes the new center will spur more recycling among the city's 88,000 multifamily homes that aren't served by Austin's curbside recycling program. The facility, located at 707 E. Ninth, was the former Walker Tire Co. Renovation is underway and Ecology Action hopes to have the facility open by September 1. If you have questions, call 326- 9396. n ENVIRO LECTURE: A new group called the Austin Environmental Forum will hold its first educational lecture on Friday, July 21 at 6:30pm at Scholz Garten. The event will feature a talk by Helen Ballew of the Hill Country Foundation, on the history and future of Austin's environmental movement. After the lecture, Bayou Beaujolais will play Cajun music. Representatives of local environmental groups will also be on hand to offer info on their activities. The event is free. Call 440-7087 for more info. n DAVE FOREMAN, SIERRAN: It can be interpreted one of two ways: either the Sierra Club is getting more radical - a la Earth First! - or Dave Foreman, the godfather of radical environmentalism, has become part of the environmental mainstream. Many observers are amazed that Foreman, the longtime monkey wrencher and opponent of all things that smacked of corporate environmentalism, was elected to the Sierra Club's board of directors. Arrested a few years ago for his participation in an effort to sabotage power lines in Arizona, Foreman has long been a darling of Earth First! members, who looked to him for guidance. But Foreman has distanced himself from the group and started his own business, selling books through mail order. It remains to be seen if Foreman's election to the Sierra Club board will energize the beleaguered group, which has had serious trouble in recent years as membership and fundraising efforts have faltered. n ERSKINE UPDATE: As reported in these pages a few weeks ago, Midland wildlife rehabilitator Midge Erskine continues fighting for the right to leave her property in its natural state. The city of Midland recently sent her a notice saying that it would be willing to enter mediation on the dispute if Erskine would agree at the outset to abandon her property. Erskine refused. The Erskines' federal lawsuit against the city is expected to go to court September 18. n AWARDS: Last month, the city's Environmental Board, Resource Management Commission and Solid Waste Advisory Commission passed out the 1995 Environmental Awareness Awards. The award for individual achievement award went to Scott Johnson, a leader of the Bull Creek Foundation. The National Wildflower Research Center won for best community or non-profit organization. St. Stephen's Episcopal School took the school award, while Motorola won the award for private enterprise. The city's Environmental and Conservation Services department took an award for its watershed protection program. n STRAW PANELS FINALLY IN PRODUCTION: Stramit USA has begun producing compressed straw panels at its factory in Perryton. The new facility turns straw, a waste product, into sturdy panels which can be used as a structural building material that could replace both wood framing and sheetrock with one product.

Every year, American farmers produce between 140 million and 200 million tons of straw. While some is used as bedding material for animals, it is usually burned or plowed under the soil. Either way, its disposal presents a problem and some states now prohibit the burning of straw. The Stramit plant, located in a wheat-producing region of the Texas Panhandle, will use waste straw to produce 4'x8'-foot panels.

Here in Austin, Pliny Fisk's Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems has used the panels in its new Green Builder Demonstration Project, and last week, Casa Verde Builders, along with students from the American Institute for Learning, used the panels in a house at 915 Walter Street. The panels will be available to Austin builders over the coming months.

Originally produced in Sweden in 1935, compressed straw panels are now produced in Britain, Belgium, Australia, China, and the Philippines. Several manufacturers have failed to make compressed straw panels into a viable building commodity for the American market. But Stramit, a British company, may have better success. With its marketing capability and the increasing interest in green building materials in the U.S., the timing certainly appears to be in their favor. For more information on Stramit panels, call James Wilson at 894-0320. n RECYCLING FACTOIDS. Paper products account for 41% of the material in Texas landfills. Yard waste accounts for 15%; mixed waste, 13%; food waste, 10%; plastics, 8%; metal, 7%; and glass, 5%. Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

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