Thursday, May 10, 2012

Major Legal Analysis Of State Sulfide Mining Regulations

May 10: A new legal analysis by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Ecojustice Canada indicates that gaps, inconsistencies and loopholes in state and Canadian provincial laws are leaving the Great Lakes and other natural resources vulnerable to a new wave of mining activity sweeping the Upper Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and the Canadian province of Ontario. Michelle Halley, NWF attorney said, "Weak laws and lax enforcement undermine efforts to protect our water, wildlife and communities from this dangerous form of mining. There is an urgent need for the region to address these issues now or likely face decades of contamination and clean-up."

    The report examines whether state and provincial laws are up to the task of overseeing a type of mining new to the region that has proven to be devastating to natural resources in parts of the western United States and Canada. So-called "sulfide mining" seeks to extract precious metals from sulfide rock formations -- a process that the groups say "produces mine waste that turns water into battery acid, devastating water resources and fish and wildlife habitat. Mines out West have been cited for hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act."

    The groups with the help of outside panels of experts -- analyzed state and provincial statutes, regulations and implementation in the areas of: regulatory scope, review process, enforcement, program resources, and reporting and official statements. According to a release, the report reveals that, across the region, laws do not offer adequate protections: The report assigns passing grades in only two out of 20 categories. Failing scores were assigned in six categories, with the remaining dozen receiving a "fair" score. Halley said, "As this report makes clear the status quo is not acceptable. The upper Great Lakes region is poorly positioned to adequately regulate the onslaught of new sulfide mining. Every state and province that we assessed needs to be doing a better job."

    In the legal analysis, Wisconsin received good scores in two categories, making them an exception among their peers in the region. Michigan ranked considerably lower than its U.S. counterparts. Michigan tied with Ontario for the lowest scores. The report -- Sulfide Mining Regulation in the Great Lakes Region -- also reviewed the role of tribal governments in the permitting process and found that jurisdictions failed to consider tribal perspectives or have denied meaningful tribal input into decision making. This is despite the fact that tribal entities have substantial land holdings and treaty rights across the Upper Great Lakes region. The report also review of the Federal role, particularly the Clean Water Act and its implications. Beyond identifying the flaws in sulfide mining permitting, regulation, and enforcement throughout the area, the analysis also includes a series of recommendations -- some with jurisdiction-specific implications and others that apply throughout the region.

    Access a release from NWF (click here). Access the complete 181-page report (click here). Access additional information including a report summary and individual state analysis for MI, MN, WI, & Ontario (click here).

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