Saturday, October 15, 2011

Opinion: Elected officials ignore potential health threats, cleanup costs from mining

By Margaret Comfort*

Recently, I received a tear-off flyer from a Michigan legislator, requesting that I "check off the issues that interest you": a. Social Security, b. Tax Reform, c. Second Amendment, d. Medicare, e. Economy and Jobs, f. Border Security.

My number one choice, "Environment and Clean Water," was not on his list.

If we do not include "Environment and Clean Water" in the top six, we will make little progress on "Economy and Jobs," "Social Security," and "Medicare." I question the wisdom of our current elected public servants' hell-bent obsession to board the run-away train for another "mining boom." It'll be a boom alright -- a boom right in the 'ol noggin. Some will get jobs for a few years, maybe even 10 years. But then what? Of course, these so-called public servants will be long out of office by then (hopefully sooner).

But why should they worry? Let the working man deal with it -- just like when greedy corporate executives sold off our manufacturing base and auto industry to other nations, where items could be produced cheaper (i.e., more money in the pockets of the big-whigs) and we were left standing in the unemployment line.

Ready for another round? Ready to sign up to be the third-world "colony" yet again?

Mining is inherently unsustainable. Minerals are NOT renewable. Any temporary gain (in terms of jobs) will serve only as a temporary stop-gap measure. Although some fortunate folks will jump for joy with that good-paying job, what are we going to do when the pot is empty? Furthermore, the potential for damage to the environment and our "new gold" (water -- soon to be more precious than gold) far outweighs the temporary economic benefits such industry will bring.

This is NOT grandpa's type of mining. This is sulfide hard-rock acid-mine-drainage (AMD) polluting mining. This pollution is difficult, if not impossible, to clean up. Do you want to drink it? What, no health insurance after you lost that temporary job? Well -- now that you are sick -- prove it. Prove that you were poisoned.

Good luck.

When concern is voiced to a legislator or public official, the Chatty-Cathy answer is: "Michigan has the toughest mining laws in the nation" and "well, our regulatory agencies are on top of it." No, we don't and, no, they aren't.

In fact, Michigan's non-ferrous mining law, known as part 632, has plenty of loop-holes. Companies are only required to conduct an in-house EIA (environmental impact assessment). No independent study is required. If a company is able to by-pass (skirt around the Spirit of the Law) the Clean Water Act, then its waste water only has to meet "safe drinking-water standards," which may not support aquatic resources such as juvenile fish. Many existing waters in our beloved U.P. far exceed this "standard." Would not it behoove us to promote legislation to safeguard the purity with which we are blessed?

Furthermore, the DEQ itself has admitted that it doesn't have the staff, financial resources, or technical expertise to do the job. The EPA, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act are currently on the chopping block. Various entities are trying to decimate them.

It would also behoove us to inquire whether any of these multinational corporations (be it Kennecott, Orvana, HudBay, Aquila, others) intends to extract, if discovered, URANIUM. Let us recall the horrors suffered by thousands of Navajo -- genetic mutations, birth defects. The legacy goes on and on.

The western world's so-called magic bullet (our savior, technology) still hasn't cleaned up the water eminating from the Midnight Mine on the Spokane Tribe Reservation, the AMD from the Buck and Dober iron mines in Iron County, nor the dioxin-laced Tittabawassee River downstream from Midland. Our magnificent state already has plenty of Superfund sites and brownfields to go around. We do not need to create any more; nor do we need to try and mask or greenwash the ones we already have.

Disturbingly, there is increasing intelligence data indicating these multinationals may intend to do just that: find a way to extract economically viable quantities of uranium compound from these ore bodies. Has triuranium octoxide been discovered in your neighborhood? near your camp? near your favourite fishing hole? near our beloved Lake Superior or Lake Michigan?

Get smart. Get informed! What are the chemical compositions of a representative sample of the company's drilled cores? Does the DEQ know? Shouldn't the DEQ know? They are supposed to be the regulatory agency! Such information should NOT be deemed a "company secret."

Furthermore, if corporations stand to profit BILLIONS from these "projects," would not it behoove the state of Michigan to demand a fair share of the pie? Shouldn't we DEMAND adequate financial assurance from the parent corporations (not just from their subsidiaries)? They must have a very strong incentive to do their utmost to not leave us and future generations of Michiganders with a big mess and a big bill. We are so hopelessly desperate right now that we foolishly settle for a few measley ten-twenty million rather than hundreds of millions in assurance.

A messy clean-up could end up costing millions per day.

Who is going to insure US -- the citizens of Michigan? What is the legal liability to us, the taxpayer? Have you, citizen, considered this? Remember: hindsight is 20/20. Turn on your brain, open your mouth, ask questions and demand answers. Do NOT settle for mediocrity. The corporation is hoping you will. Fool them! Wake up and smell the coffee!

While well-greased, politically savvy, and slick multinational corporations wine and dine our public servants, become their good buddies, and are deemed "stakeholders" to our regulatory agencies and departments, we, the EVERLASTING TRUE STAKEHOLDERS of the land and water, can't even get an answer to our questions -- nor can we get our elected officials to think, probe, and examine!

Our elected officials owe it to the People of the great State of Michigan to examine the facts, point out and question deficiencies, demand appropriate a priori financial assurances, and promote the development of a sustainable future for all citizens.

Wake up Michiganders! Demand it!

*Margaret Comfort, author of this article, is a resident of Marquette County.

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