Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Limits on sulfide mining proposed, opposed in U.P.

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By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service

LANSING –Environmental groups in the Upper Peninsula have proposed a mining initiative that would prevent adverse effects from harming the state’s water supply.

But lawmakers representing the U.P. are opposing a ballot measure by environmental groups like the Save Our Water Committee and Save the Wild UP, arguing that sulfide mining would generate economic benefits such as jobs.

The initiative claims sulfide and uranium mining would be destructive to the state’s water in the Great Lakes basin. These groups proposing the initiative do not want to ban mining permanently; they just want stricter regulations.

The Great Lakes supply 80 percent of North America’s drinking water, and sulfide mining could harm such sources by draining acid and contaminating the supply for decades, industry critics argue. If passed by voters in November 2010, it would also be applied to future mining operations in the Lower Peninsula.

“These types of pollution impacts just continue,” said Duncan Campbell, campaign director and treasurer for the Save Our Water Committee, a ballot initiative committee located out of Detroit that wants to slow sulfide mining in the state’s water.

“Sulfide mines dating back to Rome 2,000 years ago are still draining acid. We are just recommending common-sense provisions to guard adverse effects of water from such mining,” Campbell said.

If voters approve the initiative, there could be no uranium mining in Michigan until provisions are passed by the Legislature which eliminate such mining altogether, and mining applicants would need to provide a study of its possible impact on groundwater. It also extends to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

According to Campbell, the mining industry has opposed the efforts of his and other environmental organizations because of an “economic standpoint,” along with “the bar being set too high.”

The proposal also would ban sulfide mining within 2,000 feet of rivers and streams.

Kristi Mills is the director of Save the Wild UP, a nonprofit organization in Marquette. The organization says its mission is to protect the Upper Peninsula’s way of life, wildlife, landscape and water.

Mills said the ballot initiative is not intended to stop mining altogether, but is meant to regulate uranium mining because no provisions currently exist under state law.

Campbell said mining could also damage tourism in the U.P.

“Tourism requires nature to have clean, pure water,” Campbell said. “If the ballot doesn’t go through, acid mine drainage would affect the Great Lakes and the Detroit River because all streams flow into rivers and lakes. If not mined properly, the effects could be widely felt.”

Campbell said, “There is no pure Michigan without pure water.”

However, U.P. lawmakers say the environmentalist-backed initiative would bolster special interests and hinder the economy.

“The people of the U.P. should have the right to decide what is in their region’s best interest,” the five legislators said in a statement.

“Additionally, a statewide precedent could be set where ballot initiatives could negatively impact other industries such as agriculture, manufacturing or siting of renewable energy facilities.”

The statement came from Sens. Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, and Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, and Reps. Mike Lahti, D-Hancock, Steve Lindberg, D-Marquette, and Judy Nerat, D-Wallace.

But Campbell said, “Infected water will hurt the state even more. The types of jobs they are talking about are boom and bust – and not as many as reported to be.”

Mills cited the Upper Peninsula’s regional character, the risk to the tourism industry and possible health ramifications of contaminated water.

Campbell said his committee is currently in the midst of fundraising, and that signatures will be gathered by the end of this year. Signatures must be collected by May 2010.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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