The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is seeking to renew the Lundin Eagle Mine’s Ground Water Discharge Permit — with significantly weakened environmental regulations. Below is an analysis of the proposed permit by attorney Michelle Halley for Freshwater Future.
Stay tuned for updates, including the forthcoming MDEQ public hearing announcement, and more.
Exceedances and MDEQ’s Failure to Act and Backwards Regulation
During the current permit period, the mine has exceeded it limits at least 47 times, in at least the following constituents and characteristics:
- silver; and
MDEQ has taken no enforcement action. In fact, the mine has exceeded its vanadium limit more than 20 times. Instead of enforcing the limit, in this renewal permit, MDEQ is easing the limit. This is completely backwards. The MDEQ’s role is regulator, not conciliator. The limits were set, supposedly based upon sound science, as MDEQ strenuously argued during the months-long contested case that encompassed the current groundwater discharge permit. Now, rather than protecting water quality, the draft simply increases the limits to industry’s preferred levels. The facility’s performance should be required to meet the regulatory standards rather than the regulatory standards being adjusted to meet the facility’s performance.
Permit Limits Allow Egregious Degradation from Baseline Water Quality
Further MDEQ staff repeatedly assert that limits set in this renewal permit are based upon “background levels” at the site. That could not be farther from the truth. Below is a table comparing today’s proposed permit levels with baseline levels reported in Rio Tinto’s 2004 Environmental Baseline Study Stage 1 Hydrology Report, Table 9, “Quaternary Deposit Groundwater Quality Data, Eagle Project.” For appropriate comparison, both sets of data reference wells in the A or D zones of the quaternary aquifer:
|PARAMETER||UNITS||DRAFT PERMIT LIMIT||2004 RIO TINTO BASELINE DATA|
|Arsenic||ug/L||6||<2.0 (except values of 4.8 and 8.4)|
|Barium||ug/L||1000||<20 (except values of 47, 39 and 27)|
|Manganese||ug/L||50||<20 (except values of 64, 52, 140 and 180)|
|Molybdenum||ug/L||22||<10 (except values of 15 and 40)|
|Zinc||ug/L||17||<10 (except one value of 17)|
|Chloride||mg/L||250||Values <1.0 up to 3.7|
|Sulfate||mg/L||250||Values <5.0 up to 33|
|Sodium||mg/L||120||Values <0.5 up to 29|
Scope of Monitoring and Regulation is Insufficient
In addition to the false justifications for the draft permit’s limits reflecting baseline values, as was the case with the original permit, the scope of monitoring and compliance is far too small to assess impacts to the aquifer that inevitably extend beyond the postage stamp this permit purports to regulate. The monitoring and compliance wells just graze if they extend at all beyond the mine’s fence line. With significant underground disturbance from mining itself, dewatering of the mine, a supply well and the 504,000 gpd influx allowed by this permit, these influences on groundwater flow and quality are ignored by this permit. Please note that Attachment VI, “Groundwater Contour Map” is from the mine’s 2007 permit and does not even attempt to represent the current groundwater contour scenario.
MDEQ Continues Ignoring its Statutory Duty to Regulate Surface Water Discharge
MDEQ continues to refuse to regulate, as required by the Clean Water Act, the surface water discharge at the seeps, where the water regulated by this permit indisputably expresses to surface water. The draft permit, in Part III, No. 1 on p. 22 states:
Discharge to the Surface Waters
This permit does not authorize any discharge to the surface waters. The permittee is responsible for obtaining any permits required by federal or state laws or local ordinances.
Unfortunately, this permit does regulate surface water discharge to the seeps. It does so illegally and inadequately, but it is the only regulation MDEQ has ever imposed on the discharge to the seeps. Michigan has been delegated by the United States the authority to regulate surface water discharges via the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Its failure to do so is egregious. This is particularly evident given MDEQ’s refusal to apply any numeric limitations on: mercury, uranium, calcium, iron and magnesium. Mercury is of great concern in the Great Lakes basin due to the rampant impairment of nearly every surface water body in the region. Yet, at the Eagle Mine, no limit is imposed even though this water ends up in the Salmon Trout River and Lake Superior.
Limits on Uranium and Other Constituents Must At Least Match Federal Limits
In 2013, uranium was found in the wastewater stream at the Eagle Mine. The permittee makes unsubstantiated assertions that the origin of the uranium is some unknown off-site location from which it obtained building materials. MDEQ has the responsibility to regulate uranium, and every other federally-regulated constituent, to federal levels. It is failing to do so with the proposed limits and the numerous “report only” constituents, including uranium.
Check back for updates on this proposed Ground Water Discharge Permit — and how to get involved to protect our lake, land, and community from the hazards of sulfide mining.
The rush is on for the copper, silver, nickel, and other hardrock minerals of the Lake Superior region, and especially Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the latest arrivals to the UP is the recently-formed Highland Copper Company, Inc. This month geologist and Highland Vice President for Exploration, Dr. Ross Grunwald, has been on tour, giving a detailed powerpoint presentation of the company’s activities and plans in Ontonagon, Ironwood, Calumet and Houghton.
Highland Copper Company is a Canadian company based in Longueuil, Quebec. Along with its wholly-owned subsidiary Keweenaw Copper Company, Inc., the company is “focused on exploring and developing copper projects within the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, U.S.A.” Incorporated about 2 ½ years ago, they now have 21 full-time employees. They are currently exploring four deposits – three in the Keweenaw Peninsula, and another near Bald Mountain, north of Ironwood near Lake Superior. They are also in the process of buying the White Pine facility and mineral rights from Copper Range Co., a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals LLC of Canada. Drilling is being done at all these sites. As noted in this January 10th Globe story, the drilling at Bald Mountain was not generally known until Grunwald mentioned it at the Ironwood meeting.
Grunwald explained that at this point the Highland (and Keweenaw) Copper Companies are mining exploration and development companies, not mining companies. If the prospects turn out to be economically viable, they would likely be sold to other companies that would mine them. The company provided a fact sheet with a map of their projects. Their extensive website has a fair amount of information about the company, including the results of drilling done so far.
Grunwald and his partners are not the only ones that believe there’s money to be made from these prospects. Highland has been wildly successful in raising investor funds, bringing in some $25 million since September 30th in a stock offering of 43 cents per share. The money will go to continued exploration, as well as the purchase of the White Pine mine. Grunwald stated that the if and when White Pine is reopened, a new underground mine would be constructed to access the extensive copper deposits northeast of the present mine. The tailings would be backfilled into the old, water-filled mine. While smelting would not be done at White Pine, some concentrating of copper ore could be done there using staged flotation reactor technology. Meanwhile the company’s stated intent is to continue to explore for copper and other minerals throughout the Keweenaw region.
In their online “Corporate Presentation” the Highland Company notes that Michigan has a favorable political climate for mining. Their list of “favorables” includes support from the Governor and local officials, new laws encouraging mining and making Michigan a “right to work” state, and a “supportive” Michigan Department of Environment Quality staff. They state that local citizens favor development but admit that some “have questions.”
When asked at the Ironwood presentation whether Highland Copper Company had any financial ties to billionaire Chris Cline of Florida, Cline’s GTac corporation, or the Houston-based Natural Resource Partners (NRP), in which Cline is a major investor, Grunwald gave a flat-out “No.” A bit of research, mostly of these company’s own website, reveals a complicated web of connections, though.
As mentioned in several places on their website, Highland has entered into a joint venture partnership with an entity called Bowie Resource Partners LLC (BRP LLC). As stated on the website, BRP owned approximately 8.8 million mineral acres in 29 states, including approximately 60,000 gross acres of copper rights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as of 2011. BRP LLC is a joint venture formed in June 2010 between Natural Resource Partners L.P. (NRP) and International Paper (IP). Both companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Once mainly invested in coal, BRP’s holdings now include everything from oil, gas, and mineral rights to water rights and cell tower placement rights.
According to one source, Chris Cline owns 31% of NRP. As outlined on NRP’s website and their prospectus, NRP is the managing and controlling partner of BRP with a 51% interest, with IP controlling the remaining 49%. Furthermore, oilman Russell Gordy of Houston, owner of RGGS Land and Minerals LLC, sits on the NRP board of directors. RGGS owns most of the surface and mineral rights leased/optioned to GTAC in Iron County. BRP owns and manages current mineral leases, and manages the development of the more than 7 million acres of former International Paper land. Thus Highland has a joint partnership with BRP, which is controlled by NRP, of which Chris Cline (owner of GTac) is a major shareholder.
There can be little doubt that the descent of multiple mining companies on the UP and states west is a well-planned, well-funded effort by incredibly wealthy investors to turn the Lake Superior region into a major resource extraction zone, similar to the Appalachians of West Virginia (where Cline got his start in the coal industry). The question is whether the citizens of the region will let him.
(For more on the financial connections between Cline, GTac and NRP, check out the well-researched article “Circles of Friends – Spheres of Influence“ posted December 10, 2013.)
Steve Garske is a Board Member of Save the Wild U.P. and can be reached at steve [at] savethewildup.org.
We are delighted to announce our search for three superstar interns to join Team SWUP starting in the Winter 2014 NMU school semester.
Save the Wild U.P. is at the forefront of protecting our environment and unique culture while promoting sustainable economies. We’re calling for a federal corruption investigation of state mining regulators, tracking new mining developments, educating the public on the hazards of sulfide mining — and hosting free hikes, picnics, concerts and more to celebrate the wonderful wild U.P.!
Update: Our Winter 2014 Internship Application is now closed. Stay tuned for announcements on our Summer and Fall 2014 Intern Corps!
When we saw that less than 1,900 voters participated in the Marquette City Commission Primary in August, we decided to take on a new project to increase civic engagement in Marquette.
In mid-September we launched a four-page candidate questionnaire for city commission candidates seeking answers to questions we’ve heard in the community — ranging from truck traffic to pedestrian access, from mining to power plants, and more.
“Protecting our environment and communities necessitates civic engagement. We hope results of this questionnaire help voters choose the candidate who best reflects their values,” says SWUP President Margaret Comfort.
We received diverse answers to our questions, but it was heartening to see that every candidate that responded agreed on these critical points –
- Every respondent supports job growth in industries that will decrease our dependence on extractive mining.
- Every respondent supports projects that will increase local employment opportunities that promote economic sustainability.
- Every respondent believes that new mining developments near waterways threaten fish populations and recreational fishing.
- Every respondent supports holding companies financially accountable for their environmental degradation.
“It is significant to see the overwhelming interest amongst candidates for city commission to decrease our dependence on extractive industries. All of the data shows that sulfide mining is a risky and hazardous business that threatens to leak sulfuric acid into our beloved Lake Superior. It’s critical that science prevail against well-funded corporate public relations campaigns,” said Kathleen Heideman, SWUP vice president.
“Candidates at all levels across the U.P. should know that their positions on mining will define their constituency. Many U.P. voters put economic stability and conservation at the top of their list. Supporting mining-as-usual will not win these votes, and will cost them dearly,” said local attorney and SWUP advisory board member Michelle Halley.
We made every effort in this questionnaire to capture the notes and additions from candidates, added here as footnotes.
-by Laura Gauger, Legal Affairs Coordinator, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, October 30, 2013
Back in 2007 the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC; Tomahawk, Wisconsin) embarked on a mission to hold Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) accountable for water pollution problems caused by the company’s Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. FMC, at one time managed by Kennecott Minerals (Salt Lake City, Utah) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto (London, UK).
This project was never just about us here in Wisconsin … it was about trying to help clean water advocates in the entire Great Lakes region and beyond protect their own waters from adverse impacts linked to sulfide mining operations.
As you know, the mining industry has held up the Flambeau Mine to YOU, the people of Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Alaska and who knows where else around the world as an example of “environmentally responsible mining” in efforts to convince you to “let them in” and mine in YOUR communities. Our lawsuit was meant to bring out the facts about the serious pollution problems at the Flambeau Mine site and thereby debunk the myth of the “environmentally responsible” Flambeau Mine and give you ammunition to use in your own battles.
We scored a partial victory in 2012, when we took FMC to federal court over violations of the Clean Water Act and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled, among other things, that the company had indeed violated the Act on numerous counts at the Flambeau Mine site.
Unfortunately, however, FMC appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit proceeded to let the mining company “off the hook.” The Court remained silent on whether or not FMC had violated the Clean Water Act. Instead, they ruled that the mining permit issued to FMC by the State of Wisconsin “shielded” the company from prosecution and that we therefore could not enforce the Clean Water Act against FMC (even though the company had indeed violated the Act, as determined by the U.S. District Court).
In the process, no one was held accountable for the fact that the Flambeau Mine has polluted a tributary of the Flambeau River to the point where theWisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recommended to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the stream be listed as “impaired” for copper and zinc toxicity linked to the mining operation. And absolutely NOTHING has been done about the high levels of toxins (most notably manganese) in the groundwater at the mine site. You see, groundwater pollution at mine sites in Wisconsin has been legalized by the Wisconsin DNR and State Legislature (see NR 182.075, Wisconsin Administrative Code), so we could not argue that point in either state or federal court.
The latest twist is that FMC, owned by one of the wealthiest multinational mining corporations in the world (Rio Tinto), is “going after” WRPC, Laura Gauger and their fellow plaintiff (Center for Biological Diversity; Tucson, Arizona) to recover various “costs” the company accrued in the lawsuit … to the tune of $157,000.
Our lawyers are fighting the dollar amount demanded by FMC, but it appears we will be required to pay FMC/Rio Tinto many thousands of dollars.
Looks like Lundin Mining inherited a transportation route mess from Rio Tinto when it bought the Eagle Mine located 30 miles north of Marquette.
The Marquette County Road Commission (MCRC) is considering a plan to use eminent domain to seize private property to build a new 55 mph highway from CR 550 (“Big Bay Road”) to the Eagle Mine. The MCRC has said it wouldn’t be making these improvements if not for the Eagle Mine, making it illegal to use eminent domain for the benefit of this multi-national mining company. Area property owners and residents are speaking out against the highway and the threat of eminent domain.
This is not a plan for road upgrades, this is a plan for a brand new highway — and we must speak out! Check out the proposed route changes to the Triple A and CR 510 and responses to questions raised at the recent public hearing. Area residents deserve a new Public Hearing to weigh in on the new proposed upgrades.
The MCRC modified the proposed realignment based on public outcry. But the process is on an accelerated path; as the MCRC approved its plan modifications at the same meeting the modifications were proposed.
Your voice is important! Write a letter to the editor, or call your local Marquette County Commissioner to discuss the proposal for a new highway.
Meanwhile, the City of Marquette is struggling with Lundin Mining’s plan to run ore trucks through the city and Northern Michigan University’s campus. In July, the City Commission’s request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to have transportation be considered part of the Eagle Mine’s permit was denied, which would have forced the mining company to mitigate environmental impacts of truck traffic in Marquette.
Though the Lundin Eagle Mine says they’ll only increase total truck traffic by a small percentage, these trucks will be filled with ore, increasing the weight on the roadways by an estimated 50%. This poses not only a financial burden on taxpayers for years to come, but, more importantly, a huge safety risk for our communities.
** Update** The City of Marquette Public Hearing was cancelled. We are disappointed that the City of Marquette has chosen to postpone tomorrow’s Public Hearing on a truck ordinance en lieu of private meetings with Lundin Mining Company.
Stay up-to-date with these rapidly-evolving issues by checking out our FB page at Facebook.com/SavetheWildUP — together we will keep da U.P. wild!
MARQUETTE — On Thursday, a nonprofit corporation set up by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) regulators and mining industry executives, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), will appear in Circuit Court in Marquette claiming that it is not a public body and therefore is not subject to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act in response to requests for financial information.
In 2008 high-ranking State officials directly charged with enforcing mining safety and environmental regulations formed the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association as a ‘non-profit’ corporation while Rio Tinto was in the process of planning and constructing Eagle Mine. The NMGRA Board of Directors features Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives in addition to DEQ officials.
The Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association is intended to fund and operate a “core shed” — a warehouse dedicated to storing mineral core samples which is a function of the Office of Geologic Survey according to Michigan law. As a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, the contributions the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository received from individuals and corporations, including over $32,000 from Rio Tinto in 2012, are fully tax-deductible.
While Rio Tinto executives assisted in the formation of the NMGRA with state regulators, Rio Tinto constructed a 10 megawatt substation — 400% the power previously existing in Big Bay — to electrify a core shed adjacent to the Eagle Mine site. Once the power infrastructure had been installed, the core shed was removed, and Eagle Mine permit was granted a minor modification without due process or public participation.
Jana Mathieu, the attorney suing NMGRA to disclose their financial information said: “The murky facts surrounding the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association exemplify the need for the Freedom of Information Act and the purpose for which it was enacted: to shine a light on the actions of government officials which directly impact the citizens whom they purport to represent.”
Local attorney Michelle Halley, who challenged the Eagle Mine’s permits in court, says the public deserves to better understand the NMGRA’s funding. “The MDEQ’s partnership with corporations demonstrates its inappropriate relationship with the mining industry. The MDEQ’s motto of ‘the industry is our customer and we trust them’ is plain wrong. MDEQ’s job is to regulate the industry, not form partnerships with them — they’ve got it wrong, again,” said Halley.
“It can’t be overstressed how valuable these rock core samples are — to both the mining industry and the State of Michigan. The cores are key to understanding the safety of the proposed mine, the valuation of the proposed mine, and the toxic cocktail of heavy metals that will soon be raining down on Marquette County, when the mine’s exhaust vent stack begins spewing unfiltered mining dust into our clean air. Further, as the TWS is currently permitted, Eagle Mine will discharge over 500,000 gallons of water that will flow into the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River. That’s why, from the beginning, public access to information has been denied, and the core samples have been kept from scrutiny,” said Kathleen Heideman, Save the Wild U.P. vice president.
“The collaboration with mining executives for the creation of a non-profit in order to accomplish state mandates by a high level state of Michigan manager is classic regulatory capture: when an agency is captured to operate for the benefit of a private entity and no longer functions in the state’s best interests. We must end this regulatory fiasco,” said Jeffery Loman, former federal oil regulator and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal member.
“I find it interesting that NMGRA would bring in the same high-powered downstate law firm on a simple Freedom of Information Act issue that Rio Tinto hired to run interference for the MDEQ in the Concerned Citizens of Big Bay’s administrative law case over the permitting of electric lines for Eagle Mine. It almost makes you think they have something to hide,” said Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay, a grassroots group which has been active in monitoring regulatory oversight of Part 632, the legislation governing non-ferrous mining in Michigan.
“It’s in the best interests of Michigan taxpayers and workers that state regulators are doing their jobs of watching the mining industry, not holding hands with its executives. That is why we are also calling for a federal investigation of this so-called nonprofit,” said Margaret Comfort, president of Save the Wild U.P.
On June 8th, Save the Wild U.P. joined with Concerned Citizens of Big Bay and others calling for a federal corruption investigation of the mining industry and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Save the Wild U.P. is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s unique cultural and environmental resources.
Both Loman and Alexandra Thebert, executive director of Save the Wild U.P. agreed that “the decision to file the notice to sue was done after great circumspection and careful review of what is occurring at the Eagle Mine.”
“We seek to correct what is nothing short of a regulatory fiasco at the Eagle Mine. This is just the first step in a multifaceted plan to do that in full measure — we are also calling for a federal investigation of the relationship between State of Michigan regulators and the mining industry,” said Thebert.
“In order to protect our communities and environment, we must ensure that regulations are followed,” said Margaret Comfort, Save the Wild U.P. president. “Rio Tinto — and other mining companies — cannot operate outside the law.”
The 60-Day Notice to Sue was sent by certified mail Monday, June 24 at 2:00 p.m. EST. The notice went to the Acting Administrator of the EPA in Washington D.C., the EPA Region 5 Administrator in Chicago, the U.S. Attorney General, the Governor of Michigan, and Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine President Adam Burley.