Analysis: Rio Tinto’s Permit Modifications

By Cynthia Pryor

The main and substantive issue, in the new Air Quality permit application for the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine, is Rio Tinto’s assertions that an air emission control is not required for the Main Air Raise Vent (MVAR). The MVAR is a stack that is 128″ (10.6′) in diameter and 65′ high and is the only vent for all the underground workings for the mine. The emissions will include all those items associated with the development and retrieval of the ore body including blasting, ore handling, truck traffic, diesel fuels, large mine heaters, etc. Rio’s original Air Quality Permit was approved with the inclusion of a Bag House and air filter on this MVAR stack – that would capture 99% of all emissions which would include reactive sulfides resident in and broken loose from this ultramafic massive sulfide ore body.

Rio Tinto has reconfigured their plant so that they have moved the original underground cement batch plant and associated material silos (aggregate, cement) to the surface near Eagle Rock. They say there will be no crushing underground and an ore pass system will not be utilized – therefore reducing sulfide dust and emissions to such a low level that a bag house would no longer be required. In fact they say that a bag house would not even function properly – the emissions are so low. They will instead control all underground dust with water spray from a tank truck and and a hose.

All of Rio’s assumptions are based on modeling programs, heater systems whose emissions are exempt from regulation, and the assertion that will be able to control all dust with water spray from a hose. The DEQ does not require them to have controls on this huge MVAR stack, even though there will be controls on every other emission source at the mine, including an emergency generator. The DEQ does not require any air quality monitoring of the site or of this stack. Emission testing of the stack will only take place when Rio Tinto is producing 1,660 tons of ore a day. The DEQ will not require any emission testing during the blasting of adits or production of ore under this tonnage rate. Sulfide, heavy metals, blasting emissions, fuel emissions, etc. will be free flowing into the air on the Yellow Dog Plains with no control, no monitoring, and very limited testing.

The DEQ calls the Yellow Dog Plains an attainment area – which is a geographic area which has air quality below Federal Air Quality Standards. In other words, the air is good on the Plains and Rio has now the ability, under law, to pollute this air until they reach the limit of the air quality standard set by the EPA. Their models show that they can do this at 91% of the attainment level. That leaves 9% left for someone else to pollute to get them at a Saginaw, Detroit Chicago level of Air Quality. These emissions are only representative of the mine area itself. All diesel emmisons and fugitive dust from the transportation of the ore on public roads are not included in this emission standard calculation. The DEQ says they have no regulatory oversight of public roads. Nor do they have oversight of the underground workings to prove they can make their claims of low emissions. That is someone else who takes care of that (Mine Safety and Health – MSHA) . The DEQ is only concerned with what comes out of the stack and Rio’s models say they can do it and that is all the proof they need until they do their first production emissions test.

From the beginning, the State of Michigan has recognized that non-ferrous sulfide mining is different and that sulfides, from metallic sulfide mines, released into the environment and coming into contact with air and water can cause Acid Mine Drainage and damage to our land, our waters and our communities. The DEQ Air Quality staff do not seem to see any danger to the Salmon Trout River which flows a mere 150′ from this stack. They have required no impact assessment of the Yellow Dog watershed, nor an impact statement to Eagle Rock – the KBIC sacred site within the fence of this mine. They see no danger to the community of Big Bay and it’s peoples, lake and streams who are an immediate few miles downwind from the Eagle Mine.

Our job is to ask for proof that their models are correct – by demanding air quality monitors at the site that run 24/7 for the life of the mine.
We must also demand that Rio Tinto keep the promise that they made in their original permit (made as a result of public comment and pressure!) to put an air filter on the main polluting source at the site – the MVAR stack. “PROMISES KEPT” is Rio Tinto’s main motto. Let us make them hold to that promise.


Mining Boom in Great Lakes States Prompts Environmental Concern

by Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer


Beneath the placid waters of the Salmon Trout River on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula lie vast stores of nickel and copper. (Jim Malewitz, Stateline)

BIG BAY, Michigan  – For thousands of years, the Salmon Trout River held fast to a deep secret, as its pristine waters flowed into Lake Superior. Below the river’s headwaters, and hidden underneath 1,000 feet of sand, clay and rock, lie 4.1 million metric tons of ore speckled with valuable metals — primarily nickel and copper — a deposit that’s valued at as much as $5 billion.      Continue reading

NWF: Great Lakes Remain Vulnerable to New Wave of Dangerous Mining, According to New Report

Great Lakes Remain Vulnerable to New Wave of Dangerous Mining, According to New Report

Weak laws, lax enforcement undermine efforts to protect natural resources, wildlife, communities from mine waste

05-10-2012 // Jordan Lubetkin
Lake Superior

Gaps, inconsistencies and loopholes in U.S. state and Canadian provincial laws are leaving the Great Lakes and other natural resources vulnerable to a new wave of mining activity sweeping the Upper Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and Canadian province of Ontario, according to a new legal analysis by the National Wildlife Federation and Ecojustice Canada.

Weak laws and lax enforcement undermine efforts to protect our water, wildlife and communities from this dangerous form of mining,” said Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation attorney. “There is an urgent need for the region to address these issues now or likely face decades of contamination and clean-up.” Continue reading

Minnesota: Morse town hall overflows for county mining resolution debate

12/26/2011 12:10:00 PM
STATE REP. Tom Rukavina talks with Becky Rom during a break at the county board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

Morse town hall overflows for county mining resolution debate

by Tom Coombe & Nick Wognum

After several hours of testimony Tuesday in a jam-packed Morse Town Hall, the St. Louis County Board went on record in support of copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.

But the resolution ultimately approved on a 4-3 vote wasn’t as forceful as a measure originally presented the week before by Ely commissioner Mike Forsman.

Commissioners instead resolved to support “the existing open, transparent and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in place” for various copper-nickel mining projects proposed for the region and supports “the success of these projects,” contingent upon the approval of all federal and state environmental permits.

A more strongly-worded resolution of support stalled at a Dec. 13 meeting in Duluth, and other county business was put aside for more than seven hours Tuesday, when both supporters and opponents of the measure turned out in full force.

As many as 90 people crammed into the Morse Town Hall at times, and dozens more waited outside for a chance to speak or take in the proceedings.

After hearing from more than 50 speakers, most from outside the Ely area, commissioners adopted a resolution that Forsman said was tweaked in part to gain the support of commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing.

Raukar joined Forsman, Virginia area commissioner Steve Nelson and Chris Dalberg of Duluth to form a four-member majority. Continue reading

The Most Important News Story of the Day/Millennium

Published on Monday, December 5, 2011 by

The Most Important News Story of the Day/Millennium

The most important piece of news yesterday, this week, this month, and this year was a new set of statistics released yesterday by the Global Carbon Project. It showed that carbon emissions from our planet had increased 5.9 percent between 2009 and 2010. In fact, it was arguably among the most important pieces of data in the last, oh, three centuries, since according to the New York Times it represented “almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution.”

What it means, in climate terms, is that we’ve all but lost the battle to reduce the damage from global warming. The planet has already warmed about a degree Celsius; it’s clearly going to go well past two degrees. It means, in political terms, that the fossil fuel industry has delayed effective action for the 12 years since the Kyoto treaty was signed. It means, in diplomatic terms, that the endless talks underway in Durban should be more important than ever–they should be the focus of a planetary population desperate to figure out how

it’s going to survive the

Continue reading

Groups Ask Judge to Halt Mine Blasting

Huron Mountain Club – Keweenaw Bay Indian Community –
National Wildlife Federation – Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve
For Immediate Release: September 1, 2011
Contact: Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation, (906) 361-0520

Groups Ask Judge to Halt Mine Blasting
MARQUETTE, MICH. (September 1, 2011) – A coalition of groups yesterday asked a judge to halt imminent mining activity that would desecrate a sacred Native American site and jeopardize water quality for the Great Lakes and one of the region’s last spawning grounds for the coaster brook trout.

Continue reading

Minnesota: Chamber, corporations pursue sulfide mining at cost of degrading Minnesota’s waters

By C.A. Arneson | Monday, Aug. 29, 2011

It was bad enough when the U.S. Supreme Court bestowed corporations with personhood – but under the guise of the title Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota now has its own corporative dictator. And Minnesota’s dictator wants sulfide mining at all costs – including the permanent degradation of Minnesota waters.

Continue reading

Minnesota Letter to the Editor: It’s crazy to damage our watershed

By: Bob Tammen, Duluth Budgeteer News

We care about our watershed. The Lake Superior Watershed Festival brought out hundreds of visitors to Lake Superior College Saturday to learn about threats to Lake Superior. One of the biggest future threats will be copper mining in the Duluth Complex of minerals. Mining promoters have an impressive array of talking points. Unfortunately, they don’t have a scientifically acceptable mining plan.

Polymet’s draft environmental impact statement got the lowest possible rating from the EPA, which issued a letter detailing the Continue reading