August 2014 Newsletter
August 13, 2014
Dear WRPC Member,
Six Ojibwe Indian bands, led by Bad River, have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate the environmental effects of Gogebic Taconite’s proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin before the plan is reviewed by state regulators and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Under Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act the EPA can initiate a public process to protect treaty rights, aquatic resources, fisheries, wildlife, subsistence and public uses in the Bad River Watershed and western Lake Superior from metallic mining.
Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act authorizes the EPA to restrict, prohibit, deny, or withdraw the use of an area for the disposal of dredged or fill material, including mine wastes, when it is determined that discharge will have unacceptable adverse effects on fisheries, wildlife, shellfish beds, municipal water supplies, or recreational areas.
Wisconsin’s Iron Mining Law No Longer Protects Wetlands, Water Supplies, Fisheries and Wildlife
“Regrettably,” states the tribes’ letter, “we cannot rely on the Wisconsin regulatory process to protect these critical resources and the many lifeways for which they provide. Wisconsin’s new ferrous mining law presumes, at the outset, that significant adverse impacts to wetlands, from acts such as the disposal of mine waste are necessary. The law requires the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to allow wetlands to be filled, even the most significant wetlands, as long as mitigation occurs somewhere else in the ceded territories.”
EPA’s Review of the Pebble Mine is a Precedent
The tribes’s request is similar to the EPA’s recent review of the controversial Pebble gold and copper mine proposed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. Native Alaskan tribes, along with sporting and fishing groups, had asked the EPA to evaluate the risks of mine development to the sustainability of the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries.
In January 2014 the EPA report concluded that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses risks to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures. Bristol Bay supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, producing nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye with runs averaging 37.5 million fish each year. While no final decision has been made about the mine, the EPA review process will delay the project and make a permit highly unlikely.
The Bad River Tribe Needs Your Letters of Support
The most important single thing you can do this summer toward stopping the proposed open pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills is to write a letter to Dr. Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, in support of the formal request from the six Ojibwe bands requesting the EPA to initiate a public process under Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act to protect treaty rights and aquatic resources in the Bad River Watershed.
If you are a member of an environmental, conservation, sportfishing or civic organization, please use your organization’s letterhead when you write to the EPA. Send your letters, addressed to Dr. Susan Hedman, to the Bad River Tribe so that they can be presented to the EPA by the tribe.
Email your letter to: CommDir@badriver-nsn.gov
Or mail hard copy to Mark Rolo, Bad River Legal Department, P.O. Box 39, Odanah, WI 54861
Toxic Tailings Pond Breach in Canada Highlights Risks Faced by Proposed Penokee Hills Mine in Wisconsin
On August 5, more than a billion gallons of mining waste spilled into rivers and creeks from a tailings pond at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine in the interior of British Columbia. Tailings are the wastes left over from the crushing, grinding, and processing of mineral ores. Tailings often contain residual minerals including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and selenium, that can be toxic if released to the environment. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Company, the volume of the spill would fill approximately 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Hundreds of people in British Columbia can’t use their water after the spill and residents have reported seeing dead fish washing up from Polley Lake, a body of water that one resident described as “milky green.”
The Northern Miner, a Canadian pro-mining newspaper, called it “about as big a tailings dam failure as you can get.” The spill also poses a major risk to the region’s salmon-spawning grounds. Mining proponents continually assert that modern tailings dam designs are based on proven scientific/engineering principles that guarantee our safety. Except when they fail.
Gerald Mc Burney was a foreman at the Mount Polley Mine for 7 years and says he warned management of a disaster in the making because the dam was never built to accommodate the large volume of tailings generated by the mine.
Here’s the link to McBurney’s interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_PHXCGAjjA&feature=youtu.be
The proposed Penokee Hills open pit iron ore mine would be the largest iron mine in the world and will produce millions of tons of waste rock and tailings deposited in the water-rich headwaters of the Bad River Watershed. This is yet another modern tailings dam disaster waiting to happen.
“All over the world and even here in the United States, people are crying for water. And we have an abundance of water and what we need to do is protect that for our kids and their kids, said Frank Koehn, a member of the Penokee Hills Education Project.
Environmental Warrior from Ladysmith Passes On
Ted Styczinski, a dairy farmer and early opponent of Kennecott’s Flambeau mine recently passed on. Ted and his brother John were close friends and allies of Roscoe Churchill, one of the leaders in opposing the Flambeau mine in Ladysmith. They were frequent critics of the shoddy DNR review process for the mine and strong defenders of local democratic control. As Roscoe noted in The Buzzards Have Landed!, “John and Ted Stycinski are the kind of good people I have been hanging around with for over twenty-five years. It’s the best pay-off I got from fighting the buzzards.”
Laura Gauger and WRPC must pay the polluter’s court costs – over $60,000!
The mining industry has a long history of trying to silence its critics. During the 1980s many grassroots environmental groups were hit with SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) by polluters in an attempt to bankrupt ordinary citizens by phony allegations of defamation. The courts dismissed most of these suits as baseless but it forced environmental organizations to spend precious resources on legal expenses rather than protecting their communities from polluters. Many states eventually passed laws outlawing SLAPP suits.
But the mining industry is still using the courts to try to silence its critics. Laura Gauger, a citizen plaintiff, along with WRPC, filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Rio Tinto, one of the largest multinational mining corporations in the world. The case involved illegal discharges of pollutants into a stream at the company’s Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin (see “Tests find toxins at model mine,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 11/2/2011 enclosed).
We won the case in U.S. District Court and exposed Rio Tinto’s highly touted ‘model mine’ for what it is – just one more example of how metallic mines always pollute. But the Court of Appeals found a creative way to let Rio Tinto off the hook. Now we are being ordered to pay the polluter’s court costs – which total over $60,000.
Any donations to WRPC to help pay down the debt would be greatly appreciated. In addition, you will be receiving a mailing from Laura shortly as she launches her own fundraiser to pay down her share of what we owe Rio Tinto.
If the date on your mailing label is anytime before 09/14, 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 court costs. Thanks for your support in our effort to protect our precious waters.
Al Gedicks/Executive Secretary