Friday, June 28, 2013

60-Day Notice to Sue EPA for regulatory failure at Eagle Mine

By Michele Bourdieu, with information from Save the Wild U.P. 

MARQUETTE -- On Monday, June 24, 2013, Jeffery Loman, a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community member, and Save the Wild U.P., a grassroots environmental group based in Marquette, filed a 60-day Notice to Sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violations of the Clean Water Act at the Eagle Mine near Big Bay, Michigan.

View of the Salmon Trout River. Rio Tinto is drilling toward an ore body of copper and nickel located under this trout stream. Citizens concerned about potential groundwater and surface water contamination question the permits given to Rio Tinto for the Eagle Mine near Big Bay. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

According to Loman, a former federal regulator with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in Alaska, the EPA failed to require a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for treated mine water discharges at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine. In 2010 Rio Tinto told the EPA that the discharges from the revised treated water filtration system were not below the surface of the ground. The State of Michigan issued a groundwater permit while acknowledging that these discharges would actually flow into the East Branch of the Salmon Trout River.

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," said Thebert. "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."

Jeffery Loman also asked questions about Rio Tinto's treated mine water discharges during Rio Tinto's May 15, 2013, Community Forum in L'Anse. At that time, Kristen Mariuzza, Rio Tinto Eagle Project environmental and permitting manager, explained the company's position on their groundwater discharge permit.*

On June 8, 2013, members of Save the Wild U.P., KBIC, Concerned Citizens of Big Bay and other local residents rallied outside a "state" warehouse near the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Upper Peninsula office parking lot in Gwinn, calling for a corruption investigation related to activities of an unusual "non-profit" corporation, the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association (NMGRA), based in Marquette County. When NMGRA was established in 2008, its Board of Directors featured Rio Tinto and Bitterroot Resources mining executives alongside DEQ and DNR officials. State officials say they have since withdrawn from NMGRA.**

Loman and Save the Wild U.P., however, continue to question the legality of some parts of the permitting process for the Eagle Mine.

"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 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.***

Editor's Notes:

* Click here to see our video clip with Loman's questions on NMGRA and on groundwater discharge at Eagle Mine.

See also questions about Rio Tinto's discharges to groundwater which some observers still believe to be unanswered in our Aug. 4, 2012, article about the water treatment plant at Eagle Mine: "Updated: Keweenaw Now tours Rio Tinto Eagle Mine water treatment plant."

** See our June 18, article, "Citizens demand federal investigation of collusion between state regulators and mining industry."

*** In an article posted yesterday, June 27, 2013, in the Marquette Mining Journal, "City wants changes in Eagle Mine permit," concerning the City of Marquette's concerns about Rio Tinto's haul route through city streets, Rio Tinto spokesman Dan Blondeau was quoted as saying any permits the company has received will remain with the Eagle Mine when the pending sale of the mine to the Toronto-based Lundin Mining Corporation is complete.

The article states, "The Eagle Mine is a stand-alone legal entity and the mining operations are permitted to Eagle, which Rio Tinto currently owns. When the pending deal is completed, full ownership of the mine will shift to Lundin, but the permits will remain with Eagle. No transfer will be necessary, according to Blondeau."

Click here to read the Mining Journal article.

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