Great Lakes Horror Stories

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder)

A new sulfide mine may be built a mere two miles from Lake Superior, Asian carp are at the threshold of Lake Michigan, and Pete Hoekstra sees no problem with drilling under the Great Lakes. You’d think we were writing on the day following Halloween, not Mother’s Day, with this kind of news.

A new report rates Michigan’s sulfide mining laws as “poor,” a sterile word for a frightening message that there is little we can do to prevent new sulfide mines from contaminating watersheds. There is good news in the Great Lakes, though. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will complete its watershed separation study in 2013, two years ahead of schedule. Now, if only the carp will agree to wait on all these studies before invading Lake Michigan…

Hoekstra Wants to “drill down, and drill” the Great Lakes

U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra (R), who is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), said at a tea party town hall on Tuesday that he would support drilling underneath the Great Lakes. Even his tea party-backed primary opponent – Clark Durant – said that the Great Lakes should remain off-limits. Even Durant, who portrays himself as farther right than Hoekstra, knows better than to try to violate and endanger the Great Lakes.

Following a political backlash, Hoekstra later tried to retract his statements through a campaign spokesman, saying that it was a state issue. Sorry, Pete – once the oil’s in the water, you can’t take it back so easily. When you’re campaigning to represent a state surrounded by, defined, and protective of its Great Lakes, you have to protect them, too – no “ifs,” “ands,” or “but what I really meant,” about it.

New Report Details Weaknesses in Michigan’s Sulfide Mining Laws

A report recently released by the National Wildlife Federation details the weaknesses in the sulfide mining laws of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Canadian province of Ontario. The report rated the states’ regulations for sulfide mining, a process which gets at minerals by removing them from sulfide rock, creating large amounts of waste which leaches acid into nearby rivers, lakes, streams, and groundwater.

Tragically, Michigan received the lowest rankings.

The report analyzed five categories and gave the states rankings of “good,” “fair,” and “poor.” Michigan was rated “poor” in permit review, enforcement, and program resources, and “fair” in regulatory scope and reporting.How’s that for a review of metrics?

Michigan’s low ranking in the permit review process makes the DEQ’s recent approval of a new sulfide mine near the Lake Superior shoreline troubling and is rousing a great deal of attention. Our article on the subject was our most-shared post all week.

The Orvana Copperwood Mine was granted an initial permit for a sulfide mine to be located in the far western tip of the Upper Peninsula only two miles from Lake Superior. It would be allowed to mine underground to within 200 feet of the shoreline. That’s not a typo; it’s literally permitted to mine only 2400 inches away from Lake Superior. This comes in the midst of a new federal lawsuit over the Kennecott Eagle Mine in the Yellow Dog Plains, which already has a state lawsuit pending in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

There is no reason we should be trailing our fellow Great Lakes states in protecting our waters from sulfide mining pollution. Minnesota may be the State of 10,000 Lakes but, here in Michigan, we’re the Great Lakes State.

Army Corps of Engineers Accelerates Due Date on Watershed Separation Study

Separating the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds may come sooner than expected thanks to an announcement last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) will speed up their study on how to do it. On Tuesday, the ACE announced that it would complete its study in 2013, two years ahead of its initial 2015 timeline. Finally!

Right now, the only thing purported to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan is an electric barrier in the Chicago area canals. Even that barrier lost power two weekends ago, though. It underscored the need to move even more quickly, a need well-recognized by some powerful allies.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House and Senate by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D – Mich.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R – Mich.) would require the ACE to speed up its study. The Great Lakes Commission already completed their own study in January, which estimated that complete hydrologic separation could cost between $3 billion and $9 billion to complete. That’s a drop in the bucket, though, compared to the $7 billion annual fishery that could be decimated if the watersheds are not separated.

I actually participated in a town hall on Asian carp with state Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D – Grosse Pointe) a couple weeks ago with the Department of Natural Resources. One of the points I stressed most was that speeding up the study was essential and DNR agreed.

Frankly, everybody agrees that speeding up the study is a step in the right direction, but actually separating the watershed can’t come soon enough. That is, unless we can convince Asian carp to just hold off for a few more years while we decide what to do about them. Think they’ll wait patiently?

Anti-Composting Bills Go Before Senate Committee Tomorrow!

House Bills 4265 and 4266 – known as the Anti-Composting Bills – will go before the Michigan Senate Committee on Energy and Technology tomorrow. These bills would allow yard clippings into certain landfills, which they were banned from in 1995 in order to reduce landfill waste. As a result, a vibrant composting industry developed which allows Michiganders ready access to nutrient-rich compost for lawns and gardens.

These bills would bankrupt the composting industry and its associated green jobs and make Michigan more vulnerable to out-of-state trash importation from states that do not separate yard clippings.

Also This Week

The 25% by 2025 Renewable Energy Standard ballot initiative received support from two very different sources this week. Steve Linder, a partner in Republican consulting firm Sterling Corporation, wrote in to the Detroit News to correct a deeply fact-challenged article by Nolan Finley. Linder pointed out that the 25% by 2025 proposal will create jobs and save on long-term energy costs, while costing ratepayers at most a few extra dimes each month on their bills, in the short-term. The payoff? 44,000 new jobs for Michiganders.

While I’m sure they never expected to be in the same positive news segment as Sterling Corporation, AFSCME, the large union which represents thousands of Michigan municipal employees, also announced its endorsement of 25% by 2025. They did it for the same reason: job creation.

Whether coming from labor unions or Republican consultants, the bipartisan consenus is clear: 25% by ’25 will create more Michigan jobs… and that is something everyone can agree is a good thing.

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