Michigan Must Enforce Mining Laws
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been mined since the late 1800s for minerals such as iron. Mining has come and gone in waves since mineral deposits cannot renew themselves. However, with the world’s demand for minerals steadily increasing, smaller deposits are now being explored as potential sources for markets.
Particularly, small, rich deposits throughout the UP have been identified since the mid-2000s and continue to be explored today. Many of these deposits contain precious ores within sulfide rock. Extracting those minerals has become known as sulfide mining. This type of mining has a high potential to create Acid Mine Drainage, which is a threat to both surface water and groundwater.
Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) has decimated tens of thousands of stream and river miles in the United States. It is an unfortunate relic left by many mines and their negative environmental consequences are still being remediated decades later. AMD is created when sulfide bearing ore is removed from the Earth, then is exposed to air and water, resulting in sulfuric acid. AMD itself is toxic to aquatic and terrestrial habitats, but it also dissolves and releases other potentially harmful minerals present in the surrounding environmental.
Numerous companies continue to explore opportunities for sulfide mineral deposits in the UP and throughout the Great Lakes basin. Kennecott Eagle Minerals operates the Eagle Mine in northern Marquette County, after being vehemently opposed by the local communities, including Native American tribes.
While the company continues to develop the mine, lawsuits are still in court, bought on by four petitioners (Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, National Wildlife Federation, Huron Mountain Club). The suit challenges the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for issuing permits that would allow the company to operate Eagle Mine. The Michigan Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the case but no court date has been set at this time. Many other companies continue to watch the situation closely, as other permit applications are now coming in for similar projects.
In 2004 and 2005, Michigan enacted a statute and rules, known as Part 632, to regulate whether and how sulfide mining would occur in our water-rich state. Mining companies must receive a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) before breaking ground on a new mine. The permit process requires the company to submit a detailed plan describing the mine’s potential environmental impacts, how the company will mitigate them, and how it will restore the surrounding area to their previous natural condition.
Unfortunately, the laws meant to protect our waterways, land, and health are not actively being enforced by state agencies. Agencies such as MDNRE and MDEQ have approved permits and land leases even when their own experts advised that the mine would be dangerous. Michigan’s governor and legislators must ensure that the resources to fully implement Michigan’s laws are available.