Groups ask EPA for broad mining reviewThe combined impact of existing and proposed mines would be studied across the Lake Superior basin.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
A coalition of environmental, business, faith, American Indian and conservation groups today called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a broad, region-wide study of the cumulative effects of mining expansion in the Lake Superior basin.
The 59 groups from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan sent a letter to Susan Hedman, administrator of the EPA’s Region 5 based in Chicago, urging a study of how multiple new mining projects might combine to adversely impact Lake Superior.
The groups want the EPA to look at what impact existing mining has on the regional ecology, including the impact of toxic mercury in the environment, the contribution regional mining makes to that mercury load and how adding more mining might increase mercury.
An official from Hedman’s office said they have received the letter and are reviewing it. They declined to comment further.
While the letter doesn’t specifically ask the EPA to put proposed mining projects on hold, it is implicit that new mining not be allowed until the study provides answers, said Paula Maccabee, attorney for the Minnesota group Water Legacy.
That probably would mean delays for the proposed PolyMet copper mine project in Minnesota and the proposed Gogebic taconite mine in Wisconsin. The groups listed the proposed Twin Metals copper mine near Ely, the recently permitted Eagle Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the proposed Marathon and operating Lac Des Isles mines in Ontario as adding to the impact from mining in addition to existing iron ore mines in the region.
“The EPA has responsibility for the U.S. government in enforcing treaties between the U.S. and Canada over Great Lakes water quality. They absolutely have authority to step in and take a look at this,” Maccabee told the News Tribune. “Before we approve new and controversial mining projects, we need to know what the cumulative impact is on natural resources, tribal rights and, most importantly, public health.”
Maccabee noted that a recent study found that 10 percent of infants born in the Lake Superior area of Minnesota had blood mercury above the safe level. The state’s 2012 Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan Annual Report said the largest source of mercury from within the Lake Superior basin is the mining sector, at 63 percent of total emissions, Maccabee said.
Frank Ongaro, executive director of the Mining Minnesota copper mining trade group, said the cumulative impacts of proposed projects already are being studied.
“These groups have a great ability to call for things that already are being required,” Ongaro said. “Federal and state regulations already require cumulative impacts to be studied, and that’s happening right now in the PolyMet (environmental review) process. These questions are being answered.”
Several representatives of the groups previously met with Hedman in August and September.
"Discrepancies in state level permitting requirements and agency implementation underscore the need for the EPA to undertake a regional assessment," the letter said. “… Mining activities threaten the quality of drinking water, the productivity of recreational and commercial fishing, the survival of species that are threatened, endangered or of special concern, the natural resources vital to tribal culture and subsistence, and the health of infants, children and adults throughout the region.”