Mining industry representative Nathan Conrad , in his May 15 Cap Times column, repeats the discredited statements and vague promises used to support 2017 Act 134 to push unsafe mining on Wisconsin. Conrad claims the new law maintained environmental protections, when in fact it gutted many protections and public rights for mining proposals.
Act 134 repealed the state's “Prove It First” law after the industry failed to demonstrate safe examples of metallic sulfide mining. The law endangers wetlands by replacing comprehensive protections with the minimum protections in state law that were designed for parking lots and strip malls. It fast-tracks permitting by removing the required contested case hearing before permit decisions are made, and forces citizens to pay to challenge permits in court.
The law eliminated the ban on groundwater pumping of more than 100,000 gallons per day, even if pumping impacts wells or public waters like rivers, lakes and streams. It repealed the irrevocable trust rule requiring funds for long-term contingencies that could leave cleanup costs to taxpayers. This law follows years of legislative attacks on the Department of Natural Resources' budget and staffing, which diminished the agency’s capacity by design.
Conrad also claims Lundin’s Eagle mine in Michigan is a model mine without “…a single environmental mishap.” Wrong again. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recently informed Lundin that it exceeded wastewater chronic toxicity limits at its Humboldt Mill multiple times since 2017. The company also caused a recent chemical spill of sulfuric acid at the mill — a release MDEQ called an unauthorized discharge.
Eagle fails as an example for other reasons. Ore is hauled from the mine and milled off site, where the wastes are dumped into an unlined mine pit lake. An independent study by Michigan Technological University shows new concerns over increasing groundwater and surface water contaminants at both the mine and mill site, including the pit lake. Dumping reactive mine wastes into a lake can potentially limit acid and contaminant production, but this low-cost, low-tech advantage for Lundin is not a legal mine waste option in Wisconsin.
Modern mining technology is not protecting the environment. An independent study in 2012 reviewed the environmental track record of 14 out of the 16 operating copper sulfide mines responsible for 89 percent of U.S. copper production. The study found that 92 percent failed to control mine waste seepage and 100 percent experienced spills through 2012. These are some of the largest mining companies in the world working under American regulations designed to protect us, and yet they all failed.
Conrad represents Aquila Resources, a Canadian company with no mining experience which claims it can do what no other miner has done before — safely mine metallic sulfides directly adjacent to the Menominee River. No wonder nearly every nearby county in Michigan and Wisconsin is opposed to the proposal, including the county in which the proposed project is located.
Modern mining technology is instead making it easier to mine lower-grade ores, which only results in larger amounts of reactive wastes requiring permanent safe disposal. Local communities are right to be skeptical of a few short-term jobs that come with destructive mines that permanently destroy hundreds of acres of productive lands while threatening precious water resources.
Mining is an inherently unsustainable boom-and-bust industry that will never live up to industry promises of prosperity for communities. Wisconsinites know investment in sustainable industry coupled with conservation of water and land resources are a better path to preserving our high quality of life.
Dave Blouin is the mining committee chair of the Sierra Club's John Muir chapter.
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