NWF Appeals Court Approval of Controversial Mine

National Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups are appealing a Michigan court ruling that allowed a controversial metallic sulfide mine to be drilled below one of the Midwest’s finest trout streams.

Opponents claim the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality should not have issued Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. a permit to build and operate the mine because it could endanger workers, foul the air and poison pristine trout streams in Michigan’s scenic Upper Peninsula.

The Chicago Tribune published an Associated Press article on the issue Monday. Read it here.

Critics contend the mine, which will extract high grade nickel from an ore body located beneath the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, could collapse because it was designed improperly. They also believe the project will pollute the air and nearby waters with toxic sulfides that are unleashed during the mining of nickel.

“The evidence related to the likely collapse of the roof is overwhelming and that really needs to be addressed,” said Michelle Halley, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.

Other groups fighting the mine include the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the Huron Mountain Club and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.

A sign in Michigan's Upper Peninsula warns of a metallic sulfide mine.
The Kennecott mine was the first metallic sulfide mine to be approved under Michigan’s 2004 mining law. Conservation groups said the state’s failure to uphold the law could permit the construction of several other mines that pose a high risk of air and water pollution.

“We must ensure that the law’s protections of human health and the environment are honored and applied,” Halley told the Associated Press. “So far, they have not been and that is why we are seeking leave to appeal. Many more mines are in the queue and this is a precedent-setting case.”

At least three other companies hope to open metallic sulfide mines to probe for nickel, gold, platinum and other valuable metals in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Michigan officials claim the Kennecott mine is safe and that other metallic sulfide mines could be opened without threatening public health, polluting the environment or harming the region’s tourism economy .

More background on the dangers associated with sulfide mining can be found on the Web site of NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center,  which can be found here. NWF also produced an award winning documentary on the Kennecott case. Watch it here.

The online magazine Bridge recently published an article which revealed that most mining operations in Michigan are exempt from severance taxes that other extractive industries pay. The loophole could cost the cash-strapped state tens of millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

 Photo by Jeff Alexander