Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Letter: Why Casperson's SB 591 mining bill must be stopped

Dear Editor:

Anyone who has been keeping an eye on Michigan Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) knows he has made a career of getting rid of the state's environmental protections and finding new and creative ways of handing over our public lands and resources to private corporations. His 2015 highlights included an attempt to amend Michigan's 1936 Constitution to allow the legislature to raid the state's Natural Resources Trust Fund to fund private haul roads and other infrastructure for mining and drilling corporations.* 

Casperson's latest bright idea is to allow anyone with heavy equipment to mine for native copper (and perhaps other hardrock minerals) just about anywhere, any time and by any method they choose, without significant state environmental or safety regulations. Senate Bill 591 would allow native copper mines to expand at a rate of 1 to 10 acres of land per year, and to remove from 10,000 to 75,000 tons of waste rock each year, not including material removed during excavation and grading. It would require no baseline data (data collected before mining starts) and no monitoring for erosion, air pollution, acid mine drainage or heavy metal contamination. In short it would create a loophole in Michigan’s existing hardrock mining law (Part 632, Section 324 of Act 451 of 1994) big enough to drive a mining haul truck through.

Senate Bill 591 would make several changes to part 632, and it proposes part 634. Under SB 591, all anyone would have to do to obtain a permit for a native copper mine is to submit $5000 along with a basic map of the planned facility and a reclamation plan to the Michigan DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality). The DEQ would then be required to issue a permit within 45 days. The permit would allow an individual or a corporation to conduct all the activities associated with large-scale mining, including clearing and grading, drilling and blasting, and crushing, grinding, and separation of concentrated ore. It would allow excavation of shafts and tunnels, the construction of water impoundments and drainage channels, and the discharge of untreated wastewater into the environment. It would also allow construction of haul roads and power lines. With no provisions for public input, the public would be totally cut out of the permitting process.

This bill was passed by the State Senate on December 15, 2015. It has not yet been passed by the House.**

Conservatives like to say they favor of local control, but SB 591 would take local control away. Sec. 63403 (3) of Casperson’s bill states, "A local unit of government shall not regulate or control mining activities that are subject to this part and does not have jurisdiction concerning the issuance of permits for those activities." Local governments would only be allowed to pass ordinances limiting highly disruptive activities such as blasting rock at night.

Casperson's bill would give fly-by-night operators a fast-track mining permit at the expense of our air, land and water -- and our way of life. Senate Bill 591 must be stopped.

If you care about this issue, call your Representative in the State House and ask him/her to vote against SB 591.***

Steve Garske
Save the Wild U.P. Board Member

(Inset photo of Steve Garske courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

Author's Notes:

* See Senate Bill 0016 of 2015.
** See SB 0591 of 2015.
*** You can contact 110th District Rep. Scott Dianda on his Web site here or email him at You can contact 109th District Rep. John Kivela here or email him Other Michigan Representatives can be located here.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this letter appeared in the December Marquette Monthly. This letter has been updated slightly now that the bill has passed the State Senate.

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