Friday, February 12, 2010

Michigan mining ballot initiative group pulls the plug on 2010

Organizers of a proposed ballot initiative to safeguard Michigan lakes and streams from dangerous mining pollutants have fallen woefully short of the funding they need to get on the ballot in 2010.

The MiWater Ballot Initiative Campaign announced Thursday that it will not try and get the issue on the ballot this year.

The group raised only $125,000. Observers suspect it will take multiple millions of dollars to have a chance against the deep-pocketed international mining companies that oppose it.

The ballot issue would have required more safeguards against the seepage of heavy metals and sulfuric acid from so-called “sulfide mining” proposed in the Upper Peninsula. This is a new type of mining in Michigan, much different and more dangerous than the old-fashioned copper mining and other endeavors the U.P. is used to

Mining in U.P. sulfide rock formations will create poisonous byproducts that could, and probably will, leach into the streams and underground water reservoirs that feed Lake Superior (pictured).

There has never been a sulfide mine that has not put contaminants in waterways

New laws passed in 2005 were supposed to address just this type of mining. But environmental groups in Michigan are near unanimous in their disappointment in the lax way the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental has applied these laws to the first U.P. sulfide mining proposal.

That proposal, made by Kennecott Minerals, a subsidiary of London-based Rio Tinto is pending and the subject of legal objections by a coalition that includes Indian tribes, U.P. environmental groups, and the National Wildlife Federation. It would extract nickel and other metals from a deep deposit near Marquette.

The company’s description of the project is here:

The Kennecott project has hotly divided folks in the U.P., many of whom crave the jobs it would bring.

My employer, the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), is typical of environmental groups in its position. MEC is not opposed to mining, per se, but believes this particular project has design flaws and inherent risks that are unacceptable.

If it’s eventually approved, the jobs and the businesses that depend on the mine will evaporate in 15 years when the mine is played out. The profits will go to the London headquarters of Rio Tinto.

That’s a boom-and-bust cycle of unsustainable economic development at best. At worst, it leaves future generations with poisoned streams, a degraded Lake Superior, and a smattering of shuttered businesses and ghost towns that were built on a mirage.


1 comment:

  1. This is very disappointing news. I hope those who want to protect Michigan's waters from acid mine drainage (and a derelic-in-its-duty state mining regulator) will keep trying.