Science, public relations are two different things

Guest op-ed

June 3, 2012

Gene Champagne , The Mining Journal

The time has come to seek the best available, and least disputable, science with regards to air quality monitoring for the Eagle Mine in northern Marquette County and any other hard rock (sulfide) mines that follow.

To this end. the Powell Township Board, at its May 22 meeting, passed a resolution that calls for an independent, third party air monitoring program for any current and future mines that may affect Powell Township.

The key points of the resolution are:

  • It asks the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and/or the federal Environmental Protection Agency to develop an air quality monitoring program in our region.
  • Asks that air monitors be installed at present and future mine sites, within the community of Big Bay, and at any other sites within Powell Township these agencies deem appropriate.
  • Asks the DEQ/EPA to designate air quality scientists to monitor and maintain this air quality program
  • Asks that the mining company covers all costs for the implementation and on-going support for this program.
  • Asks that all data and information be available for citizen review.

The resolution was driven by citizen concerns and was edited and fine tuned with input from the Powell Township Board.

The vote by the township board was a unanimous 5-0 in favor of the resolution. There are differing views on the Powell Township Board regarding Kennecott’s Eagle Mine.

The fact that this vote was unanimous stresses the fact that our health and health concerns are universal and should not be treated as a public relations campaign or political football.

Our citizens need to know that the information they receive concerning our water and air is accurate, reliable, and as undisputable as possible.

Kennecott has been discharging unfiltered air from the portal to the tunnel being excavated at the Eagle Mine. I have stood on AAA Road near the portal and have become nauseated by the diesel fumes on some days.

One has to wonder what else is in the air, as this is the only exhaust from the excavation work being done there. I want to know. I need to know. So do you.

Kennecott also has recently applied to the DEQ for a permit to remove the air bag that would catch and filter particulate matter from the air vent stack, which will be built 150 feet from the Salmon-Trout River. This would be the only exhaust from the entire mine once operations begin.

Kennecott has recently been promoting a campaign for community monitoring. This sort of program initiated by the mining company, much less a company with little public trust and confidence already, would do nothing to allay the concerns of the majority of citizens in our region.

Rio Tinto’s current company line, expounded both in London at the company’s annual shareholders meeting, and more recently in a Sunday Mining Journal op-ed by a former DEQ and current Kennecott employee, compares the future air discharge at Eagle to that of 15 wood burning stoves.

I am sorry, but my lungs are insulted by such an oversimplification. In Utah, where Kennecott is indisputably the largest polluter in the state, the company tells the residents to drive smaller cars if they want cleaner air.

This sort of blame the victim public relations should not be tolerated in Michigan.

There will always be doubt as to its accuracy and integrity when the mining company is picking the participants and paying the monitors directly.

Let us make sure we get the science right the first time, not after an increase in avoidable lung, respiratory, or other illnesses caused by airborne particulates. We need an independent, third party air monitoring program set up and run by a responsible government agency.

When I develop a cough I want to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is not the result of something that could have been avoided.

I do not want to find out 10-20 years down the road that my government stood by and did absolutely nothing to ensure the safety of its citizens, but had instead deferred to the wishes of an out-of-state, foreign owned company.

Why wouldn’t Rio Tinto/Kennecott want the best and most indisputable science available? If Kennecott wants to truly earn the public’s trust and prove their transparency, they will embrace the concept and implementation of an independent, third party, air monitoring program for Eagle Mine and the Humboldt Mill.

Editor’s note: Gene Champagne is a resident of Big Bay.

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