Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Letter: Is the resumption of mining good public policy for the Western U.P.?

By Linda Rulison, President, FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw)

There is a rush to re-introduce mining into the western Upper Peninsula. FOLK is very concerned. There has been no assessment -- involving our citizens -- of its risks and benefits for our region. Let's do a public assessment and find out if this new mining is good public policy.*

Beneath the western U.P lie sulfide ore bodies that reportedly contain some of the richest deposits of nickel and copper in North America. The exploitation of the ore bodies began in 2011 when Kennecott Eagle Minerals began excavating the Eagle Mine. New mines are currently being developed in Gogebic and Menominee Counties with extensive exploration taking place in Baraga, Ontonagon, Houghton and Keweenaw Counties. The western U.P. could once again become a mining district.

The state government is strongly backing new mining, using the argument that it will bring new jobs and provide new sources of revenue for local governments, as well as the state. Our local governments appear to have uncritically accepted the state’s view of the favorable impact of new mining. None has spoken out against it or even expressed any concern.

Sadly, there has been no assessment or public discussion of the risks and benefits of new mining, a discussion in which our citizens would have a voice and would be able to say whether they believe that a resumption of mining is in the region’s best interest.

Citizens need to be informed. Below are some of FOLK’s concerns:
  • The risk posed to the environmental and human health of our region. Every metallic sulfide mine developed in water-rich areas like ours has created acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD together with the heavy metals it breaks down can contaminate surface and groundwater and end up in our streams and lakes, including Lake Superior, creating health risks for countless generations.
  • The threat to our economic well-being. Evidence suggests that mining could fuel a new cycle of economic boom and bust in the UP. It could also adversely affect the current patterns of economic development. Since the closing of the last native copper mine, a new economy has emerged in our region. It is diversified across several economic sectors and is increasingly based on small high tech companies and tourism.

  • The state’s failure to develop and enforce effective mining laws and regulations. According to a recent National Wildlife Federation Report, our state government is not properly applying or enforcing Part 632 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. Part 632 regulates sulfide mining.** 
  • The limited role of citizens in the approval of permits for mining exploration and the development of new mines. (Local government has no role at all.) This is a reflection of the very limited control citizens exercise over the region’s resources.
FOLK Grassroots Education and Empowerment Campaign

To assist our citizens and institutions in making an assessment of the risks and benefits of new mining, we have initiated a grassroots mining education and empowerment campaign. It has three basic objectives:
  • To introduce a mining policy for our region that requires that new mining  projects will (1) preserve, not degrade, our region’s natural and social environment and (2) strengthen, not harm, our economy.
  • To provide our citizens, community leaders, and private and public institutions with the capacity to make informed and responsible decisions regarding new mining projects in our region.
  • To enable our citizens to have an effective voice in the formulation of a mining policy and in the permitting of new mining projects.
The campaign entails research and outreach. FOLK has completed one research project: a study of the relationship of property rights and mineral rights. It is available on our website.***

FOLK is undertaking a second research project. We have contracted with a consulting firm to evaluate the implications of new mining for our economy. 

FOLK has also started an outreach and education program. An important activity is the organization of house parties where citizens can explore together, with FOLK’s support, the ramifications of new mining in our region and decide how they can best respond. These gatherings will help assure that our citizens have a deserved say in the future of new mining in the western U.P.

FOLK needs your input. We invite you to join us in making the assessment of the risks and benefits of new mining in our region.

To learn more about the campaign as well as ways you can participate in it, please visit our website: www.folkminingeducation.info.


* FOLK formed in 1990 to lead our citizens in a successful effort to block the construction of a bleached craft paper mill on Keweenaw Bay. The mill would have had a devastating impact on our environment and economy. FOLK is an active all-volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining a healthy Lake Superior bioregion.

** See Mining Laws and Regulations tab at www.folkminingeducation.info.

*** Click here to read about property rights and mineral rights.

The foregoing was published as an op-ed article in the Dec. 1, 2012, edition of the Daily Mining Gazette and will appear in other news media. There are no restrictions on its reproduction or publication.

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