Friday, December 14, 2007

DEQ approves Kennecott Eagle Project Mine

The DEQ tells us that this proposal now meets Michigan's strict environmental standards.

"This has been one of the most thorough reviews of an application ever done by this agency," said DEQ Director Steven E. Chester. "In the end, Kennecott's proposal met the high standard set by Michigan's environmental laws."

This project is the first to be subject to Michigan's new Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining rules that were enacted in response to concerns over potential environmental impacts from mining of metallic sulfide ores. The rules, among the most stringent in the nation, were drafted and agreed to by a multi-stakeholder work group that included representatives from environmental, business, and mining organizations.

Changes were made to permits to "ensure Michigan's resources were protected."

"We have made every effort to address the public's concerns within the limits of what the law allows," said Director Chester. "We must now remain vigilant in ensuring that Kennecott complies with its permits and lives up to its end of the bargain in keeping Michigan's environment safe."

And that is where the problem comes in. You can set up all the protective measures you want, but what if there is no one there to enforce them? The same Steve Chester shows up in Lessenberry's column today, and he doesn't sound as enthusiastic.

Steven Chester, the DEQ director, told the Kalamazoo Gazette that the department was looking at a potential $80 million shortfall, which meant that the staff could be reduced by up to 100 positions.

"Whatever remediation systems we are paying for now, and whatever drinking water supplies we're paying for now, the money won't be there. It will end," he said, sounding weary.

"The public won't be able to look to the DEQ for assistance. We won't be there. That's the bottom line." Over the last five years, state funding for the DEQ, once more than $100 million a year, has declined by more than two-thirds.

Uh oh. Given the cowardice displayed by our legislature on finding funding for the DEQ (and the DNR, for that matter), somehow the words above assuring us that the Kennecott mine will be monitored ring a little hollow.

Kennecott still has to go through the DNR to get a surface use lease, but it looks like this project is a go. Pray that the state can afford to keep an eye on it- or the price will be a lot steeper than raising a few bucks through the legislature ever would be.

Michigan Messenger tells us that environmental groups will try to take this to court- check out their story here.