, , , , , , , , , , ,

Will Michigan get its own version of the BP oil spill?

Acid Mine Drainage by savethewildup
Acid Mine Drainage by savethewildup

In Is Michigan’s BP Disaster Brewing in the UP? addressing the Kennecott Eagle Mine north of Marquette, the Center for Michigan’s Phil Power writes:

Today, TV screens, newspapers and the Internet are consumed worldwide with the horrendous British Petroleum oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico, now believed to be the greatest man-made environmental disaster in our history, if not that of the planet.

But something eerily similar is going on, far from the cameras, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the tiny village of Big Bay.

There, a company with a history as one of America’s greatest polluters is now planning to mine for copper and nickel right under one of Michigan’s most uniquely famous trout steams.

Michigan US Representative Bart Stupak draws parallels between the BP disaster in the Gulf and Michigan’s first sulfide mine. He writes:

Mining has been done safely to the benefit of the Upper Peninsula economy for generations, but the sulfide mine proposed in Marquette County by the Kennecott Minerals Company raises concerns that have yet to be adequately addressed.

Both BP and Kennecott’s parent company, London-based Rio Tinto, have earned reputations for their willingness to cut corners on safety and environmental safeguards to improve their bottom lines.

…Unfortunately Michigan’s mining laws fall short of holding Kennecott accountable. State permits were approved without requiring an Environmental Impact Statement and without independent baseline hydrological and geological studies. Because there is no evidence of the environment’s condition before Kennecott starts mining, there is no way to prove what damage they cause.

We should heed the lessons we have learned from the Gulf spill. Weak state regulations in place for sulfide mining are worthless without proper enforcement. Given Michigan’s continuing budget problems, it seems unlikely the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment will have adequate resources to ensure Kennecott is complying with safety and environmental standards. Kennecott should be responsible for providing the state with the funding needed for these inspectors.

You may also want to check out Jack Lessenberry’s interview with Phil Power of The Center for Michigan about sulfide mining in Michigan.

Even now, some such as Representative Jason Allen are calling for reduced regulation of mining. The Kennecott Mine is only the first of many sulfide mines and even uranium mines that are being explored in Michigan. At a time when we are still coming to grips with the devastation that a poorly regulated company with an inadequate disaster plan has inflicted on one of America’s water playgrounds, is it really a wise idea to rush into a   that could destroy our water playground?

We’ll close with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s report on acid mine drainage (pdf), and maybe you can tell me how this fits in with “Pure Michigan”:

The formation of mine acid drainage and the contaminants associated with it has been described by some as the largest environmental problem facing the U.S. mining industry.

…Acid mine drainage from coal and mineral mining operations is a difficult and costly problem. In the eastern U.S., more than 7,000 kilometers of streams are affected by acid drainage from coal mines. In the western U.S., the Forest Service estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 mines are currently generating acid on Forest Service lands, and that drainage from these mines is impacting between 8,000 and 16,000 kilometers of streams. In addition to the acid contribution to surface waters, AMD may cause metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, silver, and zinc to leach from mine wastes.