In April, SWUP Executive Director, Alexandra Thebert, traveled to London as part of of a campaign to bring community concerns to Rio Tinto’s Annual General Meeting. Below are her comments before the board, and a response from Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh.
Alexandra Thebert: Thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to speak today. My question is concerning the Eagle Mine project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in America.
Our community has been fighting Eagle Mine since the project began nearly a decade ago, which you know because we have sent representatives to your London shareholders meeting for years to address your shoddy environmental protections, sloppy work, and poor work standards.
Mining engineers have said, for years, that this permit was fraudulently issued and the structure of this portal is unsound. I’d like to add that, too, that this located which is located directly underneath sacred land to the native people of this region, who have been living in the area far longer than than 140 years.
As a sulfide mine, Eagle Mine threatens nearby Lake Superior and other major watersheds– comprising over 20% of the world’s freshwater. There is no precedent for a similar mine that does not leak acid drainage. You know this because of your own Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin where your lawyers are appealing a Clean Water Act Violation next week. I’m coming to my question, thank you [in response to heckling].
With the recent reporting of uranium at the site, former federal oil regulator Jeffery Loman states the risks have now increased exponentially, potentially endangering the workers, community, and environment to radiation and radon exposure.
Further, you seek to remove your only air filter from your mine portal– added in response to community outrage upon discovering that unfiltered mine exhaust would be sent directly into our community.
Over 10,000 people oppose this mine in our small and rural community, including hundreds of health professionals and over 100 faith leaders. Your have an expensive and risky project, and we are a very expensive, and growing opposition to your mine as we are fighting to protect our health and environment. We do not plan to stop pursuing you. We will not going to stop suing you until you have left our community — intact.
My question for you is – at what cost to our health and environment to do you plan to continue this project for so-called “value” for your shareholders? Thank you.
Chair Jan du Plessis: Thank you for those remarks, I think most of those remarks have been made at last years and previous years AGM’s so I think, while I respect the fact that you needed to make them but of course they aren’t particularly new. Sam, would you like to respond?
CEO Sam Walsh: I can comment in relation to that project which, by the way, has state and federal environmental approvals. The mine operates or the project operates at the highest standards of environmental management and also community engagement. It’s been awarded all of the necessary permits to build and operate the project as originally designed and these permits have been upheld in court.
In 2012 Eagle filled a new air permit application in which we reduced allowable emissions by 80%. And also in 2012 the Eagle partnered with 2 world-known community organizations to implement an independent community monitory program with the Marquette Community Foundation and the Superior Watershed Partnership.
The state regulatory body requires that the company requests an air permit change if there’s any change in the quantity, quality, or composition of emissions, regardless of whether that’s an increase or decrease.
In relation to your comments about uranium, uranium is in fact naturally found. It’s found in very small percentages and this is being tightly controlled by the company.
In relation to Eagle Rock, your comments about that, that is an area that we are preserving. Quite clearly we are preserving the rock outcrop that remains in its natural state and during the last 12 months, we’ve had 50 individuals or groups visit that and we provide free access to that for visits by the tribal members.
I believe we are meeting all standards. I believe we are meeting the requirements. I note your comments.