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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Editorial from Rep. Stupak: Gulf spill holds lessons for protecting Michigan waters, Great Lakes from drilling, sulfide mining

By U. S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee)

WASHINGTON, D. C. -- It is difficult to think of northern Michigan without also thinking about the Great Lakes. These waters are vital to our economy and are relied upon by 45 million people for drinking water, fishing, recreation, agriculture, industry and shipping.

That is why, in 2005, I fought to pass a federal ban on oil and gas drilling in and under our Great Lakes. As we are witnessing right now in the Gulf of Mexico, oil spills know no boundaries. Without a federal policy, all of the Great Lakes states could have different laws on drilling in our shared waters, putting us all at risk. As the tragedy in the Gulf unfolds, the importance of this ban on drilling in the Great Lakes takes on a greater significance.

In my investigations as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, we have uncovered thousands of pages of documents showing BP was willing to cut corners on safety in order to save time and money -- this despite the fact that BP’s own engineers described the well as a "nightmare well."

This mismanagement has continued in BP’s response to contain the leak and clean up the spilled oil. The latest report estimates 35,000 to 65,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf daily -- up to 12 times more than BP’s original estimate of 5,000 barrels a day. Even BP admits the earliest the spill will be stopped is August when drilling of relief wells is completed. In the meantime oil continues to flow, contaminating marshlands and beaches and killing the fish and seafood that much of the Gulf’s economy depends on.

While drilling for oil and gas is banned in the Great Lakes, other actions still threaten our waters. Mining has been done safely to the benefit of the Upper Peninsula economy for generations, but the sulfide mine proposed in Marquette County by the Kennecott Minerals Company raises concerns that have yet to be adequately addressed.

Both BP and Kennecott’s parent company, London-based Rio Tinto, have earned reputations for their willingness to cut corners on safety and environmental safeguards to improve their bottom lines.

BP reached an agreement with the President to set up an independent escrow fund to ensure the residents of the Gulf receive the claims they deserve in a timely manner. I remain concerned that Kennecott’s $17 million assurance bond does not provide nearly enough funding to address potential contamination that may continue years after Kennecott leaves the U.P. Like BP, Kennecott -- not the taxpayers -- should be responsible for the cost of cleaning up any pollution they create.

Unfortunately Michigan’s mining laws fall short of holding Kennecott accountable. State permits were approved without requiring an Environmental Impact Statement and without independent baseline hydrological and geological studies. Because there is no evidence of the environment’s condition before Kennecott starts mining, there is no way to prove what damage they cause.

We should heed the lessons we have learned from the Gulf spill. Weak state regulations in place for sulfide mining are worthless without proper enforcement. Given Michigan’s continuing budget problems, it seems unlikely the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment will have adequate resources to ensure Kennecott is complying with safety and environmental standards. Kennecott should be responsible for providing the state with the funding needed for these inspectors.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will announce by the end of the month whether federal permits are necessary for the mine to move forward. Kennecott deserves a timely answer from the EPA just as the people of Michigan deserve stronger safeguards and greater financial assurances from Kennecott.

Oil companies have been engaged in deepwater drilling for 30 years, yet they have been completely unprepared to handle a worst-case scenario. Sulfide mining has never been done -- much less done safely -- in our region. I have little confidence that the proper precautions and contingency plans are in place to prevent contamination of our streams, rivers and the Great Lakes. The financial protections put in place for taxpayers are symbolic at best. As we have seen in the Gulf spill, if we wait until a problem occurs to find a solution it is already too late.


Jessica Koski said...

It is so great that Representative Stupak is taking a stand for local people and our waters by speaking out about the dangers of the Eagle Mine. We need his support and leadership more than ever. Thank you!

Northland said...

Bart says it like it truly is on Kennecott and their sulfide mine scam. Wisconsin voters chose to ban sulfide mining (after their Wolf River debacle) until a mining company could show a sulfide mine that didn't pollute over a 10 year period after operation ceased. There has never been a sulfide mine that hasn't polluted, so Wisconsin doesn't have any new sulfide mines within their state.
Too bad that cronyism between the Granholm Administration and mining interests has brought the nightmare that never ends of sulfide mining to the UP.

Anonymous said...

Thank You, Congressman Stupak, for your courage and integrity in advocating for Precautionary Principles to protect our waters, our wild-lands, our people, our livelihood, and our future from the many unacceptable risks of the proposed sulfide mine.

We stand with you, protecting the resources our lives depend on.

The Gulf oil spill is an unprecedented ecological disaster, the effects of which we are likely to see for generations yet to come: No BP in da UP!

Engle Enterprises said...

yeah Bart! keep it up. Protect this Beautiful Lake! Keep her Superior.
Make sure someones listening (like the President if you can)This is not just a Michigan issue its a People Water issue. Cindy

Keweenaw Now said...

Thanks for your comments, readers! And thanks to Bart Stupak for speaking out on this issue.

Unknown said...

Just had a friend from Ireland over to fish in northern Michigan for a week. I told him about the proposed mine and that the mining company was Rio Tinto. His reply?

"Wow. That really sucks for the UP. Those guys are notorious for ignoring environmental safeguards."

It's really unbelievable that Michigan Citizens are forced to fight against state government and extractive mineral interests in order to protect our common natural resources. The regs for mining in Michigan need to be re-written to put public health, safety and welfare first, not corporate profits.

Abnstranger said...

Thanks, Rep. Stupak! You've really got it right. Our lands should be protected for all the citizens (note: not"consumers" -citizens) and future generations. Water is life. Too precious to squander on processes (don't, please keep calling it a 'mine') that have never ever worked and leave desolation and ruin in their wake.

You've got the real connection about 'pro-life' -valuing all life; opposing all violence. And yah know what? I bet when you were a State Trooper you didn't take cheesy bribes like the law enforcement did at Eagle Rock! (Sub sandwiches and sodas!)

Thanks for having the spirit and soul to say what you have about sulfide mining.