Laguna San Ignacio opens a new front

More on the ongoing story of Mitsubishi's plans to build a salt plant in the environmentally sensitive Laguna San Ignacio.

by Mark J. Spalding


et's say you want to build a new industrial facility a few hours from your existing operation. You apply for a building permit and submit an environmental impact assessment (EIA). To your great surprise, the government says "no, you cannot build here, your project is not consistent with zoning." What do you do?

If you are Mitsubishi, first you appeal the decision, and when that looks like a poor avenue for resolution, you drop it and come back with a new building permit application and a new EIA.

Now let's say a coalition of Mexican, US and international environmental groups has formed to oppose your project. Further, merely because those groups publish your name and address you find yourself with nearly one million cards and letters asking you not to build your new facility. A leading polling firm asks the public about your project and finds that 63 percent of American consumers oppose your plans. To add to this, a group of 34 leading scientists, including nine Nobel Laureates, declare in full page ads in the US, Europe and Mexico that your proposed industrial facility is "an unacceptable risk" to a delicate ecosystem.

If you are Mitsubishi, you ignore it all. You dismiss the authors of the cards and letters and the scientists as uninformed. You tell yourself they have been misled by environmentalist hyperbole. You make bold claims that a salt extraction facility works in harmony with nature.


Strange but true


This is not fiction. As has already been reported in SDET, Mitsubishi, in joint venture with the Mexican Government, wants to build a 116 square mile salt evaporation facility in the desert alongside Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico. (See "Complaint against Mexican government and Mitsubishi for salt plant damage to gray whale nursery," SDET, April 1999, and "'An unacceptable risk' say top world scientists of Mitsubishi's Baja, Mexico salt factory plan," SDET, September 1999). The location, according to the Mexico ministry of environment's decision on the first building permit is, to use traditional land-use jargon, not zoned for this use. It is a lagoon that is inside a Biosphere Reserve and that makes up not only a sanctuary for the gray whale to mate and give birth, but is also part of sanctuary for birds and other plants and animals. The whale sanctuary is even recognized at the international level as a United Nations World Heritage Site something important enough to deserve special protection as a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon.

The opposition of environmental groups, the public and scientists is real as well.

Unfortunately, so is Mitsubishi's denial of reality. Mitsubishi denies that its project might impact whales, birds and other protected species of animals and plants. It denies that its project is contrary to the national park-like protections in place. Mitsubishi asserts that the alteration of a massive ecosystem landscape by constructing the saltworks will be justified in its forthcoming $2 million dollar EIA. As such, Mitsubishi denies that the EIA is required by law, is not objective independent science, and cannot be written to overcome the zoning objections that formed the basis of the project's rejection in 1995. Regardless of the zoning, it is also unlikely that, in its EIA, the joint venture can carry its burden of proof of the harmlessness of its proposed saltworks a burden that does not fall on the shoulders of the public, the environmental groups or the local fishermen who oppose the project.


Hit 'em where it hurts the wallet


It is time to say WE DON'T BUY IT. Mitsubishi's denial of reality has forced the international Coalition to Save Laguna San Ignacio to take new measures to press for Mitsubishi to drop its illegal, anti-environmental and widely opposed project. If Mitsubishi will not listen to the voices it has heard so far, perhaps it will listen to accountants, stockbrokers, investors and consumers.

Mitsubishi's actions and pattern of environmental irresponsibility are a matter of public record (see "Green Wash" at These facts, as they become more and more well known, undermine the confidence of Mitsubishi's customers and investors. The attractiveness of Mitsubishi's products and its standing as a sound investment deteriorate as its consumers and stockholders reconsider and then reject their connection to Mitsubishi. The tremendous notoriety of the plight of Laguna San Ignacio and its potential negative impact on Mitsubishi's stock is being brought to the attention of institutional investors. Such investment funds can then have the opportunity to consider whether Mitsubishi remains a sound investment and whether they are willing to implicitly support Mitsubishi and its destructive operations by continuing to hold Mitsubishi stock.

For this reason, the Coalition is asking that California institutional investors immediately stop the purchase of any stock in Mitsubishi Corporation or its subsidiaries, and asks that no mutual fund or other fund containing such stock be purchased until Mitsubishi abandons its plans to build the saltworks. The Coalition is also asking such institutional investors to divest any current holding in Mitsubishi Corporation and its subsidiaries, including mutual funds or other funds until Mitsubishi abandons its plans to build the saltworks.

The DON'T BUY IT campaign is starting in California because the state is a multibillion dollar participant in the global marketplace with over $280 billion in foreign holdings. In addition, two California retirement funds are major foreign investors (the California Public Employees' Retirement System at $153 billion and the California State Teachers' Retirement System at $92 billion). Thus, California action alone can impact Mitsubishi stock prices. We also start in California out of recognition of the many shared species that migrate through this state on their way to Baja California and the proposed site the saltworks most notably the Pacific Gray Whale (imagine what the loss of this species would mean to San Diego's multimillion dollar whale-watching tourism industry). Basically, the state and local government investment funds do not serve the government's fiduciary obligation to citizens when they invest in firms that abuse the environment, harm the interests of the state's people, or are a bad investment because of the environmental degradation liability the firm carries.

The question is: will it work? The answer is yes, divestiture actions work. The South Africa Disinvestment Act is viewed as having been a major impetus for the overthrow of apartheid and the democratic election of Nelson Mandela. Also, after eight California cities and one county banned doing business with companies engaged in activities under the oppressive regime in Burma, at least six companies pulled out of Burma: Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Phillips Electronics, PepsiCo and Texaco.

Mitsubishi says, don't worry, we will do no harm to the environment.

We DON'T BUY IT. We do not do business with companies that propose to build industrial facilities in nature sanctuaries, that destroy forests worldwide, and that are guilty of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and the use of slave labor.


Be a part of the DON'T BUY IT campaign


The public and the public's representatives in local government can also take action. Until Mitsubishi announces immediate plans to abandon the saltworks project, we will discontinue all purchases of Mitsu-bishi products and services. The following is a list of the companies to avoid:

Mitsubishi Corporation (Mitsubishi Motors, Mitsubishi Estate Company, Mitsubishi Group, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi International, Mitsubishi Paper Mill Ltd., Mitsubishi Steel Mfg. Co., etc.), Nippon Mitsubishi Oil Corp., Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Mitsubishi Trust and Banking Corporation, Kirin Beer, Nikon Corp., NYK, MC Information Systems and Services, Union Bank of California, Tokio Marine and Fire Insurance, Meiji Life Insurance.

Go to the Don't Buy It campaign's web site at and click the button "Take Action" to send a free fax message to local Mitsubishi businesses under "California Residents Take Action Now!" or send a fax or email message to the head of Mitsubishi, Chairman Makihara under "Non-California Residents Take Action Now!"

Watch the web site or sign up for emailed bulletins for other opportunities including protests at Mitsubishi dealerships. One is in the planning for San Diego on October 8-9.

  Mark Spalding is an International Environmental Policy & Law Lecturer at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (University of California, San Diego). For the last four years, he has served as an advisor to the Coalition to Save Laguna San Ignacio