Acid-Mining Michigan

By Glossenger, Chuck | In These Times, January 2008 | Go to article overview
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Acid-Mining Michigan

Glossenger, Chuck, In These Times

The wild and picturesque Salmon Trout River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to the last breeding coaster brook trout on the south shore of Lake Superior. This native fish is awaiting classification to endangered species status by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But the Upper Peninsula has also coexisted with the copper and iron mining industries since the late 1800s. And its newest mining suitor, Kennecott Minerals Corporation, wants to build sulfideor "acid mines"-that could irrevocably harm the local environment and the surrounding Great Lakes ecosystems.

Kennecott, a Utah-based subsidiary of multinational Rio Tinto, has become a Michigan land baron. Since 1994, the corporation has acquired more than 500,000 acres and leased 26 percent of all mineral rights alone in Marquette County, which is in the northern Upper Peninsula.

The company plans to develop a nickel sulfide mine-known as the Eagle Project-beneath the Salmon Trout River. These mines are referred to as "acid mines" because they produce sulfuric acid (battery acid) and release heavy metals-including arsenic, mercury and lead-into watersheds, destroying all life. There has never been a non-polluting sulfide mine near a watershed, according to the late Roscoe Churchill, a longtime Wisconsin anti-mining activist and author.

On its website, Kennecott claims the Eagle Project would have a "relatively small footprint" that would have "less impact to the environment and community"

Since 2004, Kennecott has successfully lobbied members of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration and lawmakers from eight Upper Peninsula districts-initially to pass new sulfide mining laws, and currently to approve an 8,000page mining permit application-according to a recent investigation by the Great Lakes Bulletin, a quarterly publication from the Michigan Land Use Institute.

In 1994, John Engler, Michigan's Republican governor, was at the helm when Kennecott leased the Escanaba River State Forest, where half of the ore body is located. During his tenure, Engler weakened Michigan's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and created a "puppet" agency called the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which put industry on a self-regulating honor system.

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