The Man Behind Wisconsin’s Iron Mine

By – Oct 29th, 2014 01:06 pm

Billionaire Chris Cline promises his mine won’t pollute Wisconsin. But his company’s track record mining coal raises doubts.

Life is good for Chris Cline. Forbes ranks him as the 339th wealthiest person in America, with a net worth of $1.9 billion. He owns a 150-acre estate in Beckley, West Virginia and a 34,000 square foot ocean front mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. He also owns the 164-foot luxury yacht he’s dubbed Mine Games, which has five staterooms and a two-person submarine. He dated his neighbor Elin Nordegren, the ex-wife of Tiger Woods, for a year until she called it off mid-2014.

As the name of his yacht suggests, Cline made his money in mining, mostly coal mines, but he also owns Gogebic Taconite, or GTac, a Florida-based company seeking permits to construct an open pit iron mine in the scenically spectacular Penokee Hills of Iron and Ashland Counties in Wisconsin’s North Woods. The recent disclosure that GTac contributed $700,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn ran ads supporting Gov. Scott Walker, has raised questions about how much political influence was exerted behind closed doors to pass legislation clearing the way for this iron mine. The ferrous mining bill (Act 1), passed in March 2013, and largely written by GTac, seriously weakened Wisconsin’s environmental regulations and eliminated the contested case hearing where citizens could challenge the mine permit.

This was the way Cline learned to do business in the coalfields of Appalachia and Illinois: keep a low public profile while exercising power over government. Can a company like GTac, with no iron mining experience, construct one of the world’s largest open pit mines at the headwaters of the Bad River watershed without harming its plentiful waters flowing into Lake Superior? If Cline’s long track record in coal mining, and Gtac’s past history is any indication, Wisconsin residents have cause for concern.

How Cline Became King Coal

Coal pile, with the Bay View turbine in the background. Photo by Dave Reid.

Chris Cline comes from a coal mining family in Beckley, West Virginia. His grandfather mined coal with a pickax a century ago. His father would pay young Chris a penny a bag to excavate dirt from under the front porch. His corporate bio says that in 1980, Chris, at age 22, followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father and began working as an underground coal miner in southern West Virginia and “quickly moved into management.” His father, meanwhile, had bought out a mining partner’s shares in a coal mine to give Cline when he was 21 years old. By 1990, Chris Cline had formed his energy and development group, the Cline Resource and Development Group.

Cline went on to develop extensive coal mining, processing and transportation facilities in Appalachia and the Illinois Basin. According to Bloomberg Markets Magazine, Cline “became a billionaire by betting on a dirty fuel the world can’t get enough of.”

His corporate bio says Cline “learned to use unique tools to motivate his workforce to develop and run low-cost mining operations,” without specifying what those tools were. In 1999 he closed down a West Virginia mine when workers voted to join a union. He then reopened the mine without union workers. (Cline declined to do an interview or answer questions for this story.)

In 2003 Cline shifted its investment from declining Appalachian coal reserves to much cheaper Illinois Basin coal. That was the year new federal regulations went into effect requiring power plants to install scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. This created a demand for high-sulfur Appalachian coal that could now be used by plants with the new scrubbing technology. This made Cline a billionaire and allowed him to expand his coal business. By 2009 Cline had acquired more than 3 billion tons of coal in southern and central Illinois. Bloomberg Markets Magazine dubbed Chris Cline as the “New King Coal.”

However, the extraction of coal from underground longwall mining causes subsidence that damages farmland and disrupts surface and groundwater resources. For example, at Cline’s Shay 1 mine in Macoupin County, IL, the subsidence has completely altered drainage patterns of subsided lands. Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM) has described this as “a bathtub effect where lands that previously drained will fill up with standing water.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency accused one of Cline’s companies of delaying the cleanup of groundwater contamination at its Shay 1 mine in Macoupin, Ill. It is one of four mines in Illinois owned by Chris Cline and his Foresight Energy company (which he formed in 2006). Altogether, these mines have violated effluent standards in their wastewater permit 53 times over the past three years, according to EPA records.But Cline’s environmental track record is far worse than 53 permit violations. According to Devon Cupery, one of the producers of the documentary film, “Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff,” Cline’s coal mines in West Virginia and Illinois have been cited for over 8,000 federal safety violations since 2004. More than 2,300 were “significant and substantial” violations with the potential for injury, illness or death.

Cline, however, told Bloomberg Markets Magazine that government efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal are misplaced. When he learned that his children’s teachers in Palm Beach, Florida had shown Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, he asked them to distribute literature that showed climate change may be caused by clusters of sunspots or the Earth wobbling on its axis, not just carbon. When they refused, citing the lack of scientific support for such theories, he complained to school fundraisers. “As far as the social acceptability of coal, I like to think I’m part of supplying the cheapest energy in America.”

Cline told a Bloomberg reporter that Massey Energy’s CEO Don Blankenship, who headed the company during the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that occurred in April 2010 , was one of the coal industry’s “most talented leaders…  Don thinks his convictions are morally correct and follows them.” The coal dust explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners and was the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years. An independent commission appointed by West Virginia Governor Manchin concluded that Massey “operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner… and 29 miners paid with their lives.”

The report also concluded that Massey used its power “to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system” and its oversight agencies.  Politicians were afraid to oppose the company because it “was willing to spend vast amounts of money to influence elections.”

That same approach has been followed by Cline, with tremendous success.

Regulatory Capture

As early as the 1950s and 1960s, political scientists used the term “regulatory capture” to describe the situation where a regulatory agency abandons its responsibility to serve the public interest and becomes the servant of corporate interests that dominate the industry it is supposed to regulate. Scholars of both the left (Gabriel Kolko) and the right (George Stigler) challenged the prevailing assumption of a neutral regulator or public servant. Their studies showed a widespread pattern where “regulations are routinely and predictably ‘captured’ and manipulated to serve the interests of those who are supposed to be subject to them, or the bureaucrats and legislators who write or control them,” as Amitai Etzioni has written.

West Virginia has long been a state where coal mining companies used legal strategies and donations to politicians to help them evade or stall or weaken regulations. Meanwhile, charitable donations like the Cline Family Foundation’s $5 million gift to West Virginia University’s School of Medicine and Department of Intercollegiate Athletics helps to soften any opposition to the adverse effects of mining.

Cline exported this style of politics to Illinois after he moved into mining there.The Illinois Times has reported that mining companies owned by Cline have contributed thousands of dollars to a Democratic political committee controlled by one of the state’s top mining regulators. These contributions were made while Cline’s companies were seeking coal mining permits from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.Between 2006 and the present, three of Cline’s companies – Foresight Energy, Macoupin Energy and Hillsboro Energy – have contributed a combined total of more than $1.5 million to Illinois politicians including Governor Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Supreme Court justice Mary Jane Theis. Will Reynolds, a former chair of the Illinois Sierra Club told the media “there should be a federal investigation into whether the Cline companies got special treatment in permitting and safety because of campaign contributions. It looks like money was used to buy favors.”

Cline had expanded his reach by creating Foresight Energy in 2006, which  in turn, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Foresight Reserves, a privately held company. In 2007, Riverstone Holdings, a private equity firm specializing in energy and power projects, became a minority owner of Foresight Reserves. Riverstone, in turn, is part of the Carlyle Group, the third largest private equity firm in the world. The Economist magazine describes the Carlyle Group as “deeply embedded in the iron triangle where industry, government and the military converge” in a way that recalls President Eisenhower’s warning about the threat to democracy from the “military-industrial complex”

Problems in Illinois

In the case of the Shay Mine owned by Foresight Energy, the Illinois EPA says the company has been too slow in cleaning up the sulfate, iron, manganese and total dissolved solids that have leached into the groundwater under the property. The pollution comes from coal slurry produced during coal processing and can contain arsenic, heavy metals and other pollutants. Millions of gallons of slurry are stored on site in massive unlined slurry impoundments with walls more than 100 feet high.

The situation now requires urgent action because pollutants in the groundwater are spreading and have been found outside of the mine’s property. According to the Illinois Sierra Club, “this facility has contributed to groundwater and surface water contamination for several years with no penalties.” In 2013 the Illinois EPA referred the case to the state attorney general’s office for enforcement; EPA spokesperson Andrew Mason said the agency “feels that the seriousness and scope of the violations makes legal action the most appropriate path forward.”

Other problems arose with the Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro, one of the largest longwall coal mines in Illinois. The coal reserves at the mine are leased to Hillsboro Energy, LLC, owned by the Cline Group. The CEO of Hillsboro Energy is Dwayne Fransico, formerly the president of Massey Energy’s Aracoma Coal Company. He was the president of Aracoma when the company pleaded guilty to “willful” safety violations in the 2006 mine fire that led to the suffocation deaths of two workers there.

When the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Mines and Minerals approved the Deer Run mine permit in 2009 there was no mention of a massive coal slurry impoundment to be located within the city of Hillsboro. After the permit was approved, local residents learned the mine was allowed to construct an 88-foot tall impoundment that will cover one square mile and is next to a hospital, school, nursing home and day care center. It is rated as a high hazard dam because if the impoundment were to fail, it would result in loss of life and property in Hillsboro and Schram City and could send pollution downstream into Old Lake Hillsboro.

The Illinois Sierra Club and others asked for an administrative review hearing to object to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources coal slurry impoundment permit because the permit was incomplete and misleading. This was just the beginning of the controversy.

In 2011 local residents were informed a second high-hazard coal slurry impoundment would be constructed next to the first because the first impoundment was designed to last just five years. The impoundment would be twice the size of the first and be located in the City of Hillsboro. According to Citizens Against Longwall Mining, the Deer Run mine secured a revised permit from the Illinois DNR allowing it “to build the entire base of the high hazard coal slurry impoundment and begin dumping coal slurry there before any opportunity for public comment, and before the mine received a dam permit from IDNR…”

In response to citizen complaints, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to IDNR in 2011 raising concerns about whether there was adequate public notice and opportunity for public participation in the permit decision. Rather than halt construction of the impoundment until these issues were resolved, the IDNR granted the mine an emergency dam permit allowing the mine to proceed with construction before responding to citizen complaints. In 2013 a new IDNR hearing officer dismissed CALM’s petition to challenge the impoundment dam permit.

Cline Comes to Wisconsin

In July 2011, Gogebic President Bill Williams spoke to a crowd at the Deep Water Grill in Ashland, Wisconsin. He cited his previous experience at the Cobre Las Cruces (CLC) open pit copper mine near Seville, one of the largest in Spain, as an example of environmentally safe mining. This same technology, he claimed, would eliminate toxic runoff from the massive waste piles at its proposed Penokee Hills iron mine.

In fact, there have been big problems at the CLC mine. In January 2014 the Seville Office of the Environment in Spain filed criminal charges against Williams and two others for arsenic contamination of an aquifer while he was director of mining for CLC from January 2006 to January 2011. Cobre Las Cruces is owned by the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, which had purchased the mine from Inmet Mining Corp. in a hostile takeover in 2013.

Mining companies routinely “dewater” mine sites by pumping out underground water at staggering rates to keep the mine accessible as it drops below the water table. When the CLC mine opened in 2009 the company began pumping groundwater out of the open pit as part of the dewatering process. When the company re-injected the wastewater back into the aquifer on the same property it was a violation of the mine’s permit and resulted in concentrations of arsenic in local groundwater well above the maximum permitted for human consumption, prosecutors contend. The aquifer was reserved for irrigation and human consumption in times of drought.

First Quantum Minerals maintains the company and its directors will be cleared of the charges, and Williams told the Journal Sentinel the mine built a treatment system to clean the water before injecting it back into the groundwater. However, according to a story by the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative, Spanish authorities charged the mining company promised an innovative, new treatment system and later followed a different approach, illegally extracting clean water and re-injecting wastewater back into the aquifer. Whether Williams will be extradited to stand trial in Spain remains to be seen. Bob Seitz, a spokesperson for GTac, told the JS the case would have no impact on GTac’s operation in Wisconsin.

Williams gave a deposition on September 7, 2010 to answer questions about his role in CLC’s numerous permit violations. Four months later, he left this job to become president of Gogebic, which is based in Florida but has an office in Hurley Wisconsin. Gtac’s interest in the mine began in 2010, before Williams joined the company and around the time that Cline Resource and Development Group purchased Gtac.

In Wisconsin, Cline, Williams and their supporters followed the West Virginia style of buying political influence. Pro-mining groups gave Gov. Walker and state legislators almost $16 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Documents recently released in the John Doe investigation of Walker’s campaign show that GTac contributed an additional $700,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, an organization directed by the governor’s campaign adviser, which has run ads supporting Walker. Walker claims he was unaware of this donation to his campaign. Nonetheless, the governor met with Gogebic lobbyists to draft an iron mining bill shortly after taking office in January 2011, the same month that Williams took over as GTac president. GTac lobbyists were heavily involved in crafting the language of a new mining bill which eliminated restrictions on dumping mine waste in wetlands.  The new language stipulated that iron mining will result in adverse impacts to wetlands and that such impacts are presumed to be necessary.

The bill was defeated by one vote (17-16) in the Wisconsin Senate in March 2012. To insure a Republican majority the next time the bill came up for a vote, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and others spent almost $2 million to defeat Senator Jessica King (D-Oshkosh) because she had voted against the ferrous mining bill. The WMC spent $964,603 and #Wisconsin Club for Growth# spent $919,400 in attack ads in the last three weeks before the November 2012 election, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.  She was defeated by Republican Rick Gudex by 600 votes.

The Republican-controlled Assembly ultimately passed the bill. “Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited,” argued Dean Nickel in a legal filing. Nickel is the former head of the state Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Unit who investigated the fund-raising scheme for the state Government Accountability Board.

Everything, in short, went swimmingly for Cline and company. But he was to learn that Wisconsin is not West Virginia, largely due to a long history of grass roots opposition to mining led by Indian tribes located in the state.

Unexpected Opposition

The Bad River. (c)Derek Johnson

The water-rich Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin are two parallel ridges that rise 1,200 feet above nearby Lake Superior in a stunningly scenic region. Over 200 inches of snow falls on the Penokees each year, providing plentiful clean water for the Penokee aquifer, the waterfalls in Copper Falls State Park and Lake Superior. The surface and groundwater that flows off the Penokee Hills feeds several major rivers (the Bad, Marengo, Montreal, and Brunsweiler) and provides drinking water for the city of Ashland and nearby towns. The water also feeds the Kakagon/ Bad River Sloughs where the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe maintains the largest natural wild rice bed in the Great Lakes basin. Forty percent of all the wetlands on the Great Lakes are on the Bad River Reservation. This wetland complex has been called “Wisconsin’s Everglades.”

Now imagine a mountaintop removal operation, which blasts the top off the Penokee Hills to extract a low-grade iron ore deposit hundreds of feet below. This would create the largest open pit iron mine in the world, some 4 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep. Over a billion tons of waste rock and tailings created during the projected 35-year life of the mine would be dumped at the headwaters of the Bad River watershed where it could leach toxic metals into the largest undeveloped wetland complex in the upper Great Lakes. Seventy-one miles of rivers and intermittent streams flow through the proposed mining area, emptying into the Bad River and then into Lake Superior.

A view of the impacted waterways. Map courtesy of the Bad River Watershed Association.

For the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe, the proposed mine is a literally a life or death issue that could have a disastrous impact on their way of life. When tribal leaders met with Governor Walker in September 2011, they asked that any new mine legislation be based on sound scientific principles. None of the tribe’s 10 principles were considered in drafting the iron mining bill.

The Ojibwe are leading the opposition to the mine, following in the footsteps of other tribes who have opposed mining in Wisconsin. In 1990 the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa tribe joined with environmental and sport fishing groups to oppose Noranda Minerals’ plan to open the Lynne mine in Oneida County, 30 miles south of the Lac du Flambeau reservation. At stake was the contamination of the rich fishing and hunting grounds around the Willow Flowage. The unexpectedly strong opposition, combined with questions about the mine’s potential damage to wetlands, convinced Noranda to withdraw in 1993.

In 1995 the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa became the first Wisconsin tribe granted independent authority by the EPA to regulate water quality on their reservation. The tribe was ready to exercise this authority to protect their wild rice beds from the proposed Crandon mine when the mine owners (BHP Billiton) withdrew from the project and sold the land and mineral rights to the Mole Lake Chippewa and Forest County Potawatomi tribes in 2003. The opposition the company encountered was likely a key reason for the withdrawal.

Now the Bad River Chippewa tribe has asserted their authority under the Clean Water Act to enforce tribal standards on its reservation. Six Wisconsin Chippewa tribes, led by the Bad River, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an independent review of the environmental effects of GTac’s proposed mine on federally-protected treaty rights and resources before the plan is reviewed by state regulators and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Shortly after the tribes met with the EPA, GTac announced that its plans to submit its application for the Penokee Hills iron mine will be delayed at least a year.

After spending millions to secure legislation it largely wrote to speed up the permit review process, Cline and his company are no closer to a mine permit let alone any kind of social license to operate, which is now seen as essential for any large scale project by mining investors.  But Cline has a history of finding ways to get around mining regulations and there is no sign that Walker or the legislature are backing off on the mine. The battle, in short, is far from over.

Al Gedicks is emeritus professor of sociology at UW-La Crosse and the author of Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations (South End Press, 2001). His earlier story for us, “The Fight Against Wisconsin’s Iron Mine,” can be found here.

Original Post: http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2014/10/29/how-chris-cline-became-filthy-rich/3/

Sean Duffy Attacks the Wisconsin Chippewa Federation

Sean Duffy Attacks the Wisconsin Chippewa Federation

October 24, 2014 by Barbara With

Rep; Sean Duffy talking a selfie with Rep. Paul Ryan, both Tea Party Republicans and part of the effort to shut down the government last year.

Rep. Sean Duffy (WI­-R-­7) is leading the fight to dismantle the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which could greatly damage air and water quality in his own district in northern Wisconsin, which is located in Ceded Territory.

On June 4, 2014, in an effort to address climate change, the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan. The proposed rule, which calls for reduction in carbon emissions, also determines which streams and wetlands are subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act.

In July 2014, Duffy signed on to two bills designed specifically to gut the power of the EPA, including one that is aimed directly at the Wisconsin Chippewa Federation and their treaty rights.

The bills—HR 5078 and HR 4854—are co-sponsored by Tea Party Republicans and Southern Democrats in mining states and are based on a corporate manifesto written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded in part by David and Charles Koch. They are designed to severely limit the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the Clean Power Plan.

The bills passed the House in September and are part of ALEC’s “model legislation” based on the Tea Party ideology found in “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Assault on State Sovereignty.” Portraying the power of the EPA as dangerous federal overreach, the manifesto aims to protect mining interests across the country from being held accountable for their impact on the environment.

Regulatory Certainty Act of 2014 

Duffy’s bill HR 4854 defines the exact period of time the EPA is allowed to restrict or deny a Clean Water Act dredge and fill (wetlands) permit under Section 404(c). Additionally, it clarifies that the EPA does not have the authority to disapprove or revoke such a permit before the Army Corps of Engineers has completed its review of a permit application or after the Corps of Engineers has issued the permit.

Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014

Duffy’s other bill HR 5078 restricts the EPA’s ability to utilize Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Established in 1972, Section 404 authorizes the EPA to “restrict, prohibit, deny, or withdraw the use of an area for the disposal of dredged or fill material, including mining wastes, when it is determined that discharge will have unacceptable adverse effects on fisheries, wildlife, shellfish beds, municipal water supplies, or recreational areas.”

As soon HR 5078 passed the House, the White House issued a statement opposing the measure, recognizing that “clean water is vital for the success of the nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities.”

Section 404 was recently used in the widely publicized Bristol Bay Pebble Mine controversy in Alaska, where the EPA determined that fill material associated with mining would do irreparable harm to the environment and economies of the region. Bristol Bay is the second largest of the world’s salmon spawning waters.

Tyler Forks, one of thousands of streams and waterfalls that make up the Bad River watershed.

In August 2014, the Wisconsin Chippewa Federation met with the EPA to request that Section 404 of the Clean Water Act be invoked to prevent similar devastation by a proposed 22-mile open-pit mountaintop removal iron ore mine in the Bad River watershed by Gogebic Taconite (GTac).

According to their Facebook page, the Chippewa Federation is comprised of and governed by the Tribal Councils of the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Red Cliff, Sokaogon, Lac du Flambeau and St. Croix Bands of Ojibwe, or “Chippewa” Indians. Each Band is a federally recognized tribe, and is a Sovereign Nation within the United States of America. The Bands have united to pursue common interests in business, politics and socio-economic development, including the defense of treaty rights. Preservation of the inherent rights to hunt, gather and subsist within the area known as the “Ceded Territory” is a primary initiative of the Federation.

The Bad River watershed of northern Wisconsin is similar to Bristol Bay—an exceptional world-class water system that provides fresh water to the entire Lake Superior Basin and is one of the rare spawning grounds for lake sturgeon. The Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs make up 40% of all the wetlands in the Lake Superior basin and have been designated wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Duffy said in his speech on the floor of the House last summer that he favors “streamlining” the process to allow mining companies like GTac to have easier access to mining.

Kakagon Sloughs. Photo: Joel Austin

Documents released in August 2014 from the John Doe investigation revealed that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker directed GTac to funnel a $700,000 donation to his recall campaign through Wisconsin Club for Growth, an organization funded by multinational corporations and industrialists — most notably Charles and David Koch—that raises money for Tea Party candidates. Soon after the 2012 recall elections, Walker and the Republicans passed Act 1, Wisconsin’s new mining law that removed environmental protections and allows GTac to legally pollute without consequence.

The Kakagon Sloughs are also home to the wild rice beds that the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa relies on for food and spiritual practices. Acid mine drainage is known to destroy wild rice. As part of the Wisconsin Chippewa Federation, Bad River has a vested interest in Section 404 and its power to protect them from Act 1.

Duffy’s support of these bills is a direct attack on his constituents in northern Wisconsin, and especially the Wisconsin Chippewa Federation, their federal Treaty Rights, and Bad River’s efforts to protect the watershed.

Original post: http://wcmcoop.com/2014/10/26/sean-duffy-attacks-the-wisconsin-chippewa-federation/

EPA Proposes Limits on Alaska’s Pebble Mine Project

By Juliet Eilperin

July 18

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposal Friday under the Clean Water Act that would limit mining activity in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, striking a major blow to a project that would rank as one of the world’s largest open-pit mines.

Commercial fishing boats in Bristol Bay near Naknek. July 6, 2007 (flickr / echoforsberg)
Commercial fishing boats in Bristol Bay near Naknek. 

July 6, 2007 (flickr / echoforsberg)

The proposed determination, which will now be subject to a public comment period until Sept. 19, represents the latest step by the Obama administration to impose restrictions on a massive gold and copper mining project, called Pebble Mine. Native Alaskan tribes, commercial fishing operations and environmentalists who have been seeking to block the venture on the grounds that discharge from its operations could harm the area that supports nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon.

Dennis McLerran, the regional administrator for EPA Region 10, told reporters Friday the agency had concluded that even a mine much smaller than the one currently envisioned by Pebble’s sponsors would produce “almost unfathomable amounts of rock” which “posed significant risks to the fragile ecosystem” in Bristol Bay.

The EPA was taking this step “to protect the world’s largest salmon greatest fishery what would certainly be one of the world’s largest open pit mine developments ever conceived of,” he said.

A Canadian-based firm, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is trying to start construction on the project, which it predicts will create 1,000 direct jobs and generate up to $180 million in state revenue.

The mine’s developers have not filed a permit application yet, so EPA based its analysis on the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It based its conclusion on a .25 billion ton mine, which is significantly smaller than the project the Pebble Partnership said it is likely to pursue.

Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier issued a statement saying it still needed to analyze the proposal, but added, “We are outraged, however, that the agency decided to take this action when litigation on their underlying authority to do so is pending in federal court in Alaska, and when their own Inspector General is currently in the process of reviewing the propriety of EPA’s actions.”

“It if further disappointing when you consider that many of the peer reviewers of the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment noted that the Assessment – the only “science” EPA has to justify its action – was not a sufficient basis to support any regulatory decision,” Collier said. “We will continue to fight this unprecedented action by the agency, and are confident we will prevail.”

In February, EPA invoked its authority under the Clean Water Act to determine whether it should permanently bar the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing a discharge permit for the mine. Bristol Bay is home to a critical fishery. Its draft proposal bars certain filling and dredging activities associated with the operation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has repeatedly warned EPA not to issue a “preemptive veto” against Pebble Mine, though Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and other Democratic senators from the Pacific Northwest such as Maria Cantwell (Wash.) have argued it poses too great a risk to the wild fishery.

“The EPA is being disingenuous in saying that this decision is only going to impact mining in a particular area of Alaska,” said Murkowski in a statement, noting that she is visiting the U.S.-Mexico border right now and is still reviewing the documents. “The EPA is setting a precedent that strips Alaska and all Alaskans of the ability to make decisions on how to develop a healthy economy on their lands. This is a blueprint that will be used across the county to stop economic development.”

But opponents of the mine emphasized the prescribed nature of the proposal: Begich issued a statement Friday saying it “applies only to the Pebble deposit.”

“The limited scope is critical and means the determination would not affect mining or any other resource development project in other parts of the state. As I’ve often stated, I believe Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place,” he said. “However, I remain a strong supporter of the mining industry and mines in other regions of Alaska and remain committed to ensuring that this process does not allow any precedent to be set that could restrict other responsible mining projects in Alaska or the U.S..”

Tim Bristol, who directs Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program, praised the agency’s move.

“Thousands of Alaskans requested that the EPA review threats to the Bristol Bay fishery from the proposed Pebble Mine, and hoped they would recommend strong protections for Bristol Bay salmon and jobs as they have,” Bristol wrote in an e-mail. “Far from a preemptive veto, the EPA’s actions simply place an understandably high standard for any mining company wishing to apply for permits in Bristol Bay. These restrictions will ensure that no unacceptable adverse impacts will occur from mining development in Bristol Bay; the very standard that has been the law of the land for over 40 years.”

Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited’s president and CEO, said he had just visited Bristol Bay last week, where commercial fishing operators are finishing a season that will net 30 million fish. “If there was ever a time to stop this ill advised and myopic proposal to mine Bristol bay’s headwaters, it is now.”

Throughout the EPA’s review, backers of the mine have questioned whether the agency has used adequate science to support its findings.

Joel Reynolds, Western director for the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, said he did not think the mine’s sponsors would be able to overturn the EPA’s determination because it was based on “a comprehensive, science-based process.”

“Their chances of being able to overturn it are minimal at best,” he said. “Today’s one more nail in the coffin in a project that deserves to die.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/07/18/epa-to-propose-limits-on-alaskas-pebble-mine-project/

Meetings begin between tribes, EPA to discuss halting Northern Wisconsin mine

Meetings begin between tribes, EPA to discuss halting Northern Wisconsin mine

August 21, 2014 7:45 am  • 

For the second time this year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is being asked by Native American tribes to use its powers under the Clean Water Act to halt a mine and preserve the quality and habitat of nearby waterways.

The EPA, at the request of Alaskan tribes, commercial fishermen and conservationists, issued a proposal in July that would limit the activity of a proposed gold and copper mine, known as Pebble Mine, next to Bristol Bay, according to a Washington Post article. Bristol Bay is home to a large fishery that supports nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon.

Dennis McLerran, the EPA administrator for Alaska, said the agency had concluded that even a mine much smaller than the one being proposed would produce “almost unfathomable amounts of rocks” which “posed significant risks to the fragile ecosystem” of Bristol Bay, according to the Washington Post.

On Wednesday, northern Wisconsin’s Chippewa Federation of Tribes led a group of tribal leaders from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota to meet with federal regulators in Michigan and discuss halting the Gogebic Taconite mine in northern Wisconsin.

“The EPA is working with tribes here and in Alaska on a political, sovereign level,” said Mark Anthony Rolo, a legal department spokesman for the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. “This isn’t about granting special rights to tribes, as many people would think. This is government to government business.”

The meeting comes three months after the band of tribes sent a letter to EPA officials in Washington and Chicago.

“We are formally requesting that you initiate a public process to protect our treaty rights as well as the aquatic resources, fisheries, wildlife, subsistence and public uses in the Bad River Watershed from metallic mining, including a potential Gogebic Taconite mine,” said Bad River Band chair Mike Wiggins Jr. in a May 27 letter to EPA officials. “Such a request is not unprecedented and is well within your authority.”

The proposed mine is located in ceded territory, an area that covers roughly the upper third of Wisconsin. That means the tribes located in this area have specific rights over the natural resources, including hunting and fishing rights.

“The actions of the mining company and the Wisconsin’s regulatory process … leave us with little assurance that science and law will be wielded in a transparent and just manner to protect our lands and waters,” said Wiggins in the letter to the EPA.

Lac du Flambeau President Tom Maulson said in a statement that “they’re going into these meetings with their eyes wide open,” according to a Wisconsin Public Radio report.

Gogebic Taconite is drilling for ore samples in an effort to receive a permit from the state to build a 4.5-mile-long open pit, iron ore mine. If built, it would be the country’s largest.

The mine is located in the Penokee Range of northern Wisconsin and will stretch across portions of Ashland and Iron counties. The streams and rivers from the proposed mining site drain into sacred Native American rice beds and Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh water source.

Like tribes and conservationists who opposed Alaska’s Pebble Mine due to the effect waste would have on waterways that flow into Bristol Bay, Wisconsin tribes are arguing the EPA must use a section of the Clean Water Act to intervene and preserver the waterways that drain into Lake Superior.

The mine in northern Wisconsin has been controversial from the start. The state rewrote its mining law, with the help of Gogebic, and it was passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in 2013.

Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking reelection, is a staunch supporter of the state’s new mining bill and the estimated $1.5 billion project. He cited the ability of the mine to create jobs when he signed the bill into law.

Tribes and conservationists vocally opposed the project, with Gogebic at one point hiring armed guards to protect the property and its employees from protesters. The tribes routinely said they would seek intervention from the EPA to halt the mine if the state began the process to issue a mining permit.

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The Fight for Wisconsin’s Soul

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A tributary of the Bad River, whose headwaters in Wisconsin are in the footprint of a proposed iron ore mine. Credit: Azael Meza

But now, after the recent passage of a bill that would allow for the construction of what could be the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, Wisconsin’s admirable history of environmental stewardship is under attack.

The mine, to be built by Gogebic Taconite (GTac), owned by the coal magnate Chris Cline, would be in the Penokee Hills, in the state’s far north — part of a vast, water-rich ecosystem that President John F. Kennedy described in 1963, in a speech he delivered in the area, as “a central and significant portion of the freshwater assets of this country.”

The $1.5 billion mine would initially be close to four miles long, up to a half-mile wide and nearly 1,000 feet deep, but it could be extended as long as 21 miles. In its footprint lie the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world and by far the cleanest of the Great Lakes. Six miles downstream from the site is the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose livelihood is threatened by the mine.

To facilitate the construction of the mine and the company’s promise of 700 long-term jobs, Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation last year granting GTac astonishing latitude. The new law allows the company to fill in pristine streams and ponds with mine waste. It eliminates a public hearing that had been mandated before the issuing of a permit, which required the company to testify, under oath, that the project had complied with all environmental standards. It allows GTac to pay taxes solely on profit, not on the amount of ore removed, raising the possibility that the communities affected by the mine’s impact on the area’s roads and schools would receive only token compensation.

The legislation has generated fierce opposition since it was first introduced in 2011. The following year, the bill was actually defeated in the State Senate, 17 to 16, owing to the defection of one Republican, Dale Schultz. After the vote, the Republican majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, told me that “the corporation and their attorneys drafted a bill that may have been acceptable in other states,” with the implication being that the company had perhaps gone too far for Wisconsin.

Since then, however, Democrats have lost three Senate seats and an even more industry-friendly version of the bill was revived and passed. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a campaign-finance watchdog, GTac executives and other mine supporters have donated a total of $15 million to Governor Walker and Republican legislators, outspending the mine’s opponents by more than 600 to 1.

Most distressing to many native Wisconsinites, including me, was the way the bill violated a bipartisan, reform-minded civic tradition called the Wisconsin Idea. For more than a century, the Wisconsin Idea had encouraged the use of scientific expertise to inform public policy, but the mining bill dangerously ignores geological reality.

Equally troubling was the more recent discovery by Tom Fitz, a geology professor at Northland College in Ashland, Wis., of a highly carcinogenic asbestos-form mineral at one of GTac’s sampling sites. The fibers of the mineral, which would be dispersed in blasting, are like tiny, breathable needles.

Last September, several hundred people gathered outside John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport in Ashland, a few miles from GTac’s mining site, to commemorate Kennedy’s 1963 speech, which called for legislation to protect the area’s natural resources and promoted its economic potential as a scenic region for recreation. One of the last to speak at the event was Mike Wiggins Jr., the chairman of the Bad River tribe and the mine’s most formidable opponent.

The Bad River fear the contamination of the fish they depend on for food and the destruction of sensitive wild rice beds that they harvest on the coast of Lake Superior. Mr. Wiggins has voiced his opposition to the mining legislation in private meetings with Mr. Walker, led Wisconsin’s tribes in demonstrations at the State Capitol in Madison and allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars of the Bad River tribe’s scant resources to legal fees to fight the mine.

The Bad River and several other tribes assert that the state has no right to permit the enormous mine without their agreement since the site lies in “ceded territory,” an area covering a large portion of Northern Wisconsin where tribal members maintain special hunting, fishing and harvesting rights enshrined in federal treaties. Last June, one of the tribes established an educational camp near the mining site to draw attention to how the mine would violate its treaty rights, as well as to highlight sustainable alternatives to mining. GTac responded to a minor altercation with protesters unconnected to the camp by hiring an Arizona-based private-security firm, which sent guards armed with semiautomatic weapons to patrol the mine site. (The guards have since been withdrawn; the camp is still there.)

In the Chippewa tradition, a decision is made based on how it will affect people seven generations forward. By contrast, the company’s optimistic estimate for the life span of the first phase of the mine is 35 years. Last summer Mr. Wiggins played Governor Walker a recording of Kennedy’s speech. Mr. Wiggins said that the governor appeared indifferent to Kennedy’s words; Mr. Walker has never wavered in his support of the mine.

Mr. Wiggins and five other tribal leaders have already begun seeking redress from the federal government. Last August, they sent President Obama a letter asking him to direct the Interior Department to prevent the construction of GTac’s mine, citing their claims that the mine would infringe on their treaty rights.

Though the letter did not mention it, five years ago Mr. Obama told nearly 400 Native American tribal leaders, “We have a lot to learn from your nations in order to create the kind of sustainability in our environment that we so desperately need.” The president said that the tribes “deserve to have a voice” and “will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.” Last week, Mr. Wiggins said that although he has gotten preliminary responses from two federal agencies, he is still awaiting an answer from the president.