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Friday, December 14, 2007

Opponents vow to fight DEQ approval of UP sulfide mining permit

Disappointment over decision to allow dangerous mining linked with acid mine drainage leads groups to plan next steps

Community and environmental leaders united today in their opposition to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of a permit for a dangerous sulfide mine on the Upper Peninsula’s Yellow Dog Plains.

Some opponents are now poised to legally challenge the flawed decision that would allow the mine to operate beneath a critical Lake Superior tributary.

The nickel mine would generate hundreds of thousands of tons of acid-leaching waste rock from underneath the Salmon Trout River near Marquette, putting the region’s water at risk, including Lake Superior.

"We are extremely disappointed that after all the work which went into crafting the law governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan that the DEQ has chosen to simply ignore key components of that law. They’ve granted Kennecott a permit which clearly doesn’t even meet the intent, let alone the letter of the law," stated Anne Woiwode, state director of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter.

National Wildlife Federation attorney Michelle Halley said she and other opponents are currently considering a variety of administrative and court actions. “We need time to review the final permit conditions and will proceed after that,” she explained.

Opponents of the permit include: Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Landowners Opposed to Sulfide Mining, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Students Against Sulfide Mining, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Save the Wild UP, and a host of other ad hoc groups throughout the region.

Less than two months after receiving more than 4,000 public comments, including a technical analysis that numbered more than 700 pages, the MDEQ upheld its preliminary decision to allow Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. to blast a mine beneath a blue-ribbon trout stream.

“NWF and key allies that share our concerns are prepared to challenge these permits because they do not meet legal standards,” Halley said. “We cannot stand idly by while the DEQ permits fatally flawed projects.”

Halley questioned whether the MDEQ adequately considered the expert testimony that concluded the mine posed an unacceptable risk to the state’s water resources and the safety of mine workers.

“The MDEQ has always said they would make the decision based on science and yet they have ignored the technical information submitted by leading mining industry experts,” she explained. “Technical analysis was submitted by people who specialize in groundwater, subsidence, air pollution and a myriad of other specialties and all pointed to egregious errors in the permit application. For the MDEQ to turn a blind eye indicates that something other than science is prevailing in Lansing,” Halley continued.

Speaking on behalf of the Huron Mountain Club, Paul Townsend questioned whether the MDEQ ever seriously considered the risks.

“On October 17, we filed comprehensive comments in opposition to the proposed permits, including reports of scientific and engineering consultants, all well-respected experts in their fields. The complete filing was more than 700 pages,” Townsend recalled.

“Now the DEQ has approved the mining permits. While disappointing, this is not surprising, given the past performance of DEQ. We are even more disappointed in Governor Granholm’s lack of leadership on this critical issue. Had the technical comments been properly evaluated, she and her DEQ would have found repeated instances where Kennecott had submitted false or incomplete information which experts believe show that this mine will cause significant environmental damage to the Upper Peninsula,” Townsend said.

Cynthia Pryor, executive director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, said she believes fear is what is motivating the state agency.

“Unfortunately, Kennecott is holding the State of Michigan hostage to the notion that they will sue them for takings if this mine is not permitted. Why else would our government - who is bound to protect us - sell our lands, our waters and our natural resources to this company from England, despite the will of the people and the scientific realities of the project?” Pryor asked.

Save the Wild UP, the grassroots group that has vocally opposed the project, believes the state has sold out the people of the Upper Peninsula.

“DEQ has made a charade of listening to the public. Governor Granholm seems willing to hold her nose and allow the inevitable nasty pollution of the U.P. and the Great Lakes,” said Dick Huey, co-founder of Save the Wild UP.

While the mining company gained MDEQ approval today, opponents say the project still has several hurdles to clear, including at least one federal permit required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and permission from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to utilize 120 acres of state lands for the mine’s surface facilities via a 40-year land lease. One week ago, Kennecott was notified by MDNR of seven areas of concern related to the company’s plans for the property after the mine’s closure.