October 24, 2005

Gold: and some of its stupid consumers

Asia's Insatiable Appetite

Amrita Raj, a 25-year-old bride, was shopping for her wedding trousseau on a recent Saturday in New Delhi. There was a "wedding set" to be bought that day, with its requisite gold necklace, matching earrings and two sets of bangles.

For the sake of family honor, the new in-laws would have to receive gold gifts as well - a "light set" for the mother-in-law, plus a gold ring or a watch for the bridegroom, and earrings for a sister-in-law.

"Without gold, it's not a wedding - at least not for Indians," Ms. Raj said.

For thousands of years, gold has lent itself to ceremony and celebration. But now old ways have met new prosperity. The newly moneyed consumers who line the malls of Shanghai and the bazaars of Mumbai sent jewelry sales shooting to a record $38 billion this year, according to the World Gold Council, the industry trade group.

Over the last year, sales surged 11 percent in China and 47 percent in India, a country of a billion people whose seemingly insatiable appetite for gold - for jewelry, temples and dowries - has traditionally made it gold's largest consumer.


Why can the Bush government pay for the Iraq war 2 continents away while it can't pay for cleanup or enforce environmental rules in its own backyard?

Montana and other big mining states still often depend on mining companies for much of the scientific data about environmental impact, or the money to pay for the studies, state and federal regulators say, mainly because government agencies generally lack the resources to do expensive, in-depth research themselves.
Some mine regulators defend the practice, saying that having scientific data supplied by companies with a financial interest in the outcome is not necessarily bad if the review is stringent.
"What is important to make the system work is that state and federal agencies have the wherewithal and expertise to look at the information," said Mr. Wireman of the Denver E.P.A. office.
But one lesson of Zortman is that good information is sometimes ignored.
In the early 1990's, an E.P.A. consultant and former mining engineer, Orville Kiehn, warned in a memo to his bosses that not enough money was being set aside by the mine for water treatment.
Mr. Kiehn's opinion, vindicated today, went nowhere. The environmental agency had little legal authority then - and no more today - to protect the public from an operating mine except by filing a lawsuit, as it did in 1995 after Pegasus had already violated federal clean water standards.
The company settled the suit in 1996 and agreed to pay $32.3 million mostly to upgrade and expand water treatment.
At the time, state officials rejected the idea of squeezing Pegasus to put up more money. This spring, Montana's legislature created a special fund for water treatment to make up for it, for the next 120 years, at a cost of more than $19 million.

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