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E-M:/ MDEQ grants preliminary approval to flawed application

For Immediate Release
July 30, 2007

Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation, 906-361-0520
Dick Huey, Save the Wild UP, 906-249-9999
Cynthia Pryor, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, 906-360-2414
Philip Power, The Center for Michigan, 734-665-4081
MDEQ grants preliminary approval to flawed application
Air and water pollution would result if mine receives final approval
A request by Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company to exhaust heavy metals dust into the air, discharge polluted water into an underground aquifer, and ruin miles of prized snowmobile trails received a favorable response from state regulators today. Despite an internal investigation focused on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's mismanagement of the application review process for a proposed sulfide mine, the department today issued a preliminary approval to Kennecott's plan to drill beneath a premiere Lake Superior tributary in northern Marquette County.
Voicing continued disappointment with state regulators, a host of citizens and groups condemned today's announcement, pointing once again to the numerous flaws in the application permit and clear indicators that the MDEQ lacks the experience and expertise to regulate a project of this scope.
"Acid mine drainage and the mine's roof caving in are still dire concerns. Since there have been no substantive changes in the application, our concerns have not been addressed. The application is deficient and the operation would undeniably cause pollution. Kennecott's application offers a litany of ambiguous responses, as if we are to simply trust that the company can operate a sulfide mine safely, but Kennecott's own history says otherwise," said National Wildlife Federation attorney Michelle Halley.
Application deficiencies aside, Halley said public trust of the MDEQ's ability to objectively oversee the permit process and mining operations has been eroded. "After suppressed reports, a whitewash investigation, and now another ill-founded preliminary approval, I really wonder what's going on in the agency. If the consequences weren't so serious, I would call it a comedy of errors," she said
Cynthia Pryor, executive director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, said the announcement only strengthens her organization's commitment.
"Once again, the MDEQ is granting preliminary approval based on an incomplete and weak application that hinges watershed safety on flawed and inconclusive science. This is the time for the people in Marquette County to say 'enough is enough' and to send a message to Lansing that this community does not want this mine." Pryor said.
Dick Huey, co-founder of Save the Wild UP, expressed displeasure with state leaders and concern about the risk to human health should the mine be allowed to proceed.
"Our Governor apparently buys a loose promise of short-term cash and turns a blind eye to the long-term environmental damage of every sulfide mine that has ever been. DEQ follows the political wind, with an eye on our Governor. Michigan citizens and anyone drinking Great Lakes water should fear long term elevated incidence of Alzheimer's, birth defects and cancer if permitting this mine opens the door to a new sulfide mining district," Huey said.
For many local citizens, disbelief arises from the understanding that state regulators apparently believe some degree of pollution is acceptable. Huey urged residents to take seriously the data contained in the application.
"Residents of Marquette should believe Kennecott's own air handling permit application, which promises 20 tons per year of pollutants that will surely poison the Yellow Dog and Salmon Trout rivers and which is dangerous to human health and deadly to pines and conifers," he said. "That poisonous plume could easily extend for miles. Perhaps the MDEQ can tell us citizens exactly how far and in which direction."
Philip Power, a local land owner and President of The Center for Michigan, also voiced his objection to the approval.
"At the start of all this, some of us actually believed the DEQ could handle review of Kennecott's permit applications with integrity and impartiality.  The agency's record since then belies these hopes.  The internal culture of the Office of Geological Survey is to facilitate mining, not regulate it.  Documents have been suppressed, Freedom of Information requests ignored, and the commitments made by the agency to prevent pollution have been overthrown.  Now the DEQ proposes to grant to Kennecott an air permit that allows the company to spew toxic copper and nickel dust all over the central UP.  It's increasingly clear the DEQ has neither the expertise nor the guts properly to review this project," Power said.
This new decision comes amidst controversy over MDEQ procedures that resulted in the suppression of reports questioning whether the roof of the underground mine would hold up. Many of those same concerns remain, according to experts who have reviewed the application. An investigation ordered by the MDEQ concluded that the agency needed to overhaul its process for considering the application because "no experience had been gained, nor procedures developed for processing applications."
As local citizens continue to urge their fellow residents to speak out against the project, the MDEQ will now continue its technical review and will, by law, make a final decision following public hearings slated in Marquette County for September 11 - 13 at the West Branch Community Center on the old KI Sawyer Air Force Base. A September 19 public hearing will be held in Lansing at the Lansing Center.
Please note my new phone number below.
Jordan Lubetkin
Regional Communications Manager
National Wildlife Federation
Great Lakes Natural Resource Center
213 W. Liberty St., Suite 200
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1398
Phone: (734) 887-7109
Cell: (734) 904-1589
Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.