August 2012 Newsletter
August 16, 2012
Dear WRPC Member,
On July 24, 2012 a federal court ruled that the Flambeau Mining Company, a subsidiary of Kennecott/Rio Tinto, violated the Clean Water Act on multiple occasions by allowing pollution from its Flambeau Mine site, near Ladysmith, to enter the Flambeau River and a nearby tributary.
The lawsuit against Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) was filed last year by the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and Laura Gauger. Monitoring data from the mining company and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources showed that copper levels in the discharges from a detention basin exceeded Wisconsin’s acute toxicity criterion set to protect fish and other aquatic species, sometimes by several times.
Despite the violation of federal clean water laws the Flambeau Mining Company has tried to spin the verdict to claim that the discharges never threatened the river’s water quality (see “Pollution at site called minimal,” MJS 7/26/12). It is important to understand that the Clean Water Act was intended to protect and maintain the quality of surface waters; for this reason it is a “strict liability” statute and the discharge of any amount of pollutant is unlawful without a Clean Water Act permit. The court found that FMC had discharged copper at concentrations that exceeded state-established toxicity standards.
This decision should put an end to FMC’s false claim that the Flambeau mine is an example of environmentally safe mining. It also means that the mining industry cannot use the Flambeau mine as an “example mine” as defined by Wisconsin’s Mining Moratorium Law, also known as Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” legislation. Under the law, any mine that has resulted in pollution during or after 10 years of mining cannot be used as an example mine. The law defines pollution as “degradation that results in any violation of any environmental law as determined by an administrative proceeding, civil action, criminal action or other legal proceeding.”
While WRPC has won its lawsuit, the judge denied our right to collect our legal fees from the polluter, as provided in the Clean Water Act. This is a highly unusual ruling and our attorneys will be appealing this decision. In the meantime, we will be incurring further legal expenses in this process.
Gogebic Taconite (GTac) still plans to gut Wisconsin’s Mining Regulations
After George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation met with Tim Sullivan, president of the Wisconsin Mining Association, to develop a mining bill acceptable to GTac, it looked like there was movement toward another attempt at so-called mining reform.
Then a July 19, 2012 letter from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) to the Wisconsin Mining Association (WMA) urged the WMA to cut off any discussion of mining reform with Democratic legislators and wait until after the results of the fall election when Republicans expect to regain control of the state Senate. At that point, Republicans will be able to pass the mining bill that went down in defeat in the state Senate last session (see “Delay mine talks,” MJS 7/27/12). The WMC letter was particularly concerned about a proposed study by a consultant that would compare Wisconsin’s regulatory framework to other states (see “Protect state’s resources,” MJS 7/22/12). WMC is afraid that such a study “could further confuse legislators and opinion leaders and make it more difficult to pass a bill that is acceptable to the mining industry.”
Since when does the mining industry decide what legislation will be acceptable for Wisconsin citizens? Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) responded to the WMC letter saying the letter “discourages release of information prior to the election so that WMC can control the media with a barrage of misleading advertisements that confuse citizens…They don’t want the public to know the facts because they know the facts may result in better public policy that serves the public.”
Major setbacks for proposed metallic sulfide mining projects in Oneida County, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Citizens in Onedia County and the town of Lynne have expressed their frustration with the suppression of public participation in the decision over whether to lease county forest lands for mining. “Over the past three years we have been asking for an open public process on this issue,” said WRPC member Karl Fate. “It’s unbelievable to me that the chairman of the county board could have stacked a committee like this on such a serious issue in favor of pushing a mine. And that explains why there has been no public process over these last three years.”
At that same meeting, Dave Schatzley, board chairman in the town of Lynne warned that if Oneida County pursues mining in the town of Lynne, the township board is prepared to oppose the project through its zoning authority.
The Northwoods League of Women Voters has scheduled a public forum on this controversy at Nicolet College in Rhinelander on Monday, September 10 from 7:00-9:00 pm. Panelists will include Karl Fate, Dave Schatzley, Tom Evans from the Wisconsin Geological Survey, a tribal representative and myself.
Meanwhile, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, HudBay Minerals has severed its business ties with Aquila Resources at the proposed Back Forty zinc and gold sulfide mine on the Menominee River, a stone’s throw from Wisconsin’s Marinette County. The mine is planned almost directly under the Menominee River and could severely pollute both Wisconsin and Michigan waters.
Finally, on August 8, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed to hear the mining and groundwater cases filed against the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and Kennecott over the Eagle Project on the Yellow Dog Plains.
Please Renew Your Membership and Contribute to the WRPC Legal Defense Fund
If the date on your mailing label is anytime before 09/12, it means your annual membership is due ($15 for regular or $5 for senior/low income). When you renew your membership, please consider an additional donation for WRPC’s ongoing expenses with our lawsuit. Thanks for your continued support in our effort to protect our precious waters.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary