Sun, Jan 02, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Newmont wants to bar vote on probe into poisoning claim


Newmont Mining Corp wants to bar shareholders from voting on a proposal that would require a company review of waste disposal programs in Indonesia, where it is accused of poisoning villagers.

Attorneys for the Denver-based company, the world's largest gold producer, made the request to federal regulators last week, saying the company should be allowed to exclude the proposal from a shareholder vote at its 2005 annual meeting.

Under the proposal, Newmont would have to evaluate its disposal programs in Indonesia and determine the degree of potential environmental and public-health risks from its mining operations.

The proposal was sponsored by the Office of the Comptroller of New York City on behalf of several pension funds representing New York employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

In response, Newmont attorneys said in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company already has accomplished what the proposal asks.

Last week, the company admitted it had released 17 tonnes of waste mercury into the air and 16 tonnes into the water over five years, though it said the toxic releases were far below Indonesian emissions standards.

"We were well below any Indonesian standards and well below any US Environmental Protection standards," Wayne Murdy, the company's chief executive officer, said last week in a telephone interview. "We have an excellent environmental record worldwide."

However, an EPA staff member called the release of 33 tonnes of mercury into the air and water over several years at the gold mine in central Indonesia "a major concern."

A member of another big pension fund, TIAA-CREF, is seeking a vote in hopes of barring investment in gold-mining companies because of environmental and social impacts.

Indonesian authorities have accused its local subsidiary, Newmont Minahasa Raya, of dumping heavy metals into Buyat Bay on Sulawesi island, causing residents to develop skin diseases and tumors. Tests on the bay have produced conflicting results and villagers this week dropped a US$543 million lawsuit against Newmont Minahasa Raya.

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