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The Wall Street Journal: Goldman Prizes Recognize Environmental Activists

Wall Street Journal photo of Willie Corduff 

(John Antonelli / Goldman Environmental Prize 
Willie Corduff at his Rossport farm)

By JIM CARLTON
April 22, 2007 12:02 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — Activists who helped block industrial development on four continents are among this year’s recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the environmental world’s highest honor.

This year’s honorees include an Irish farmer who helped stop a consortium headed by Royal Dutch Shell PLC from running a gas pipeline through his property, a Canadian tribal leader who helped get her government to seal off forests from logging and other activities, and a nomadic Mongolian herdsman who mobilized his countrymen to curtail gold mining that was depleting a major river in the arid nation.

The Goldmans are being presented to a total of six recipients at a ceremony in San Francisco on Monday. The prizes are sponsored by a foundation headed by San Francisco philanthropist Richard Goldman, who started the awards in 1990 with his late wife Rhoda as a way to honor grassroots environmental activists around the world. Each award has a $125,000 cash value, with most honorees putting some of the money into their respective campaigns. (More background on the prizes can be found at http://www.goldmanprize.org.)

Mr. Goldman, 87, said the prizes aren’t intended to be anti-business. “We’re just concerned with the problems of the world,” he said.

Willie Corduff of Ireland is being honored for his role in getting the Shell-led consortium to halt plans to construct a pipeline across his property and that of several other farmers. The pipeline was set to carry unrefined natural gas from a newly discovered field off the country’s west coast for processing at an onshore refinery. Mr. Corduff, 53, was among five landowners jailed for 94 days in 2005 for refusing to allow the Shell team access to their properties, as had been granted by the local government. Mr. Corduff said he and many of his neighbors were concerned about possible environmental harm, as well as threats to public safety from the gas.

Following subsequent protests, the Shell consortium agreed last year to find a new route for the line farther away from homes. Although Shell officials have said the project is safe and that they plan to consult with the local community for a new route, Mr. Corduff says he will continue pushing for the gas to be refined at sea and away from populated areas.

Another Goldman honoree is 47-year-old Sophia Rabliauskas of Canada. She is being recognized for helping to get a Manitoba province to protect two million acres of boreal forest within her Ojibway tribe’s territory from logging and planned construction of a hydroelectric transmission line. The forest has remained untouched under a temporary agreement by the government that is set to expire in 2009. Manitoba officials have said they plan to grant permanent protection to the forest, where the tribe has hunted and fished for generations.

Ts. Munkhbayar, 40, is being honored for leading citizen protests in Mongolia against gold mining operations that he says have resulted in one of the country’s biggest rivers running dry for hundreds of miles. Numerous companies were using a highly destructive practice, activists say, of diverting river water to scour gold out of rock. His efforts helped shut down many of the mining operations, Goldman officials said.

Other honorees include: Orri Vigfusson, 64, of Iceland, for his work negotiating voluntary buyouts of commercial salmon fishing rights in the North Atlantic to help replenish the fish; Julio Cusurichi Palacios, 36, of Peru, for helping to secure a national reserve to protect indigenous people who have never seen outsiders; and Hammerskjoeld Simwinga, 45, of Zambia, who helped transform the economy of a village area from one that assisted poachers in a wildlife preserve to protecting the animals for tourism, among other enterprises.

Write to Jim Carlton at [email protected]

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