Update: DEQ Grants Permit to Kennecott Minerals Co. for Sulfide Mining in the Upper Peninsula

Only days before the formal recombination of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) into the newly authorized Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), the DEQ announced final approval of state permits for a dangerous sulfide mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This is terribly disappointing and inappropriate given the timing and the overall strength of Michigan laws pertaining to non-metallic mining.

Organizations involved in writing the Michigan law have been appalled by the DEQ's interpretation over the course of the last few years. Citizens have voiced outrage and organizations have built capacity to fight the decision (see www.savethewildup.org) through public discontent and via the legal system. The National Wildlife Federation, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, Huron Mountain Club, and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community have a robust legal battle underway and we can expect an appeal of this most recent DEQ decision soon.

What is sulfide mining and why should Michiganders be concerned about it?

According to Save The Wild UP, Metallic sulfide mining is a Midwest US term, usually referred to as hard rock mining in the western US.
Metallic sulfide mining is the practice of extracting metals (such as nickel, gold and copper) from a sulfide ore body. When excavated, if sulfide ore or the tailings piles are exposed to water and air, a chemical reaction can create sulfuric acid. Precipitation can cause sulfuric acid to drain from the mine site (a process called acid mine drainage or AMD), moving into nearby water resources and thereby harming people, plants, animals and metal and concrete structures.

It is important to note that there has never been a metallic sulfide mine that has not polluted water resources where water was present.

Acid mine drainage also dissolves heavy metals (lead, zinc, copper, and mercury), allowing them to enter groundwater and surface water. It can form red, orange or yellow sediments in the bottom of streams, which can disrupt the growth and reproduction of fish or kill aquatic plants and animals. And, finally, acid mine drainage can be very expensive to clean up and has costly impacts on local communities.

Given Michigan's role as THE Great Lakes state, a state blessed with more fresh water resources than anywhere else on earth, environmental and conservation organizations question whether this is the kind of mining we want taking place in proximity to the very natural resources that define us.

To view the DEQ's recent press release on their permit decision, click here.