Kennecott Minerals Co. will have to obtain at least one federal permit before drilling a nickel and copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.
The company plans to install an underground infiltration system to dispose of treated wastewater, said Jo Lynn Traub, director of the water division in the EPA’s Chicago regional office. That will require a permit to ensure the mine complies with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, she said Wednesday.
Thus far, regulation of the proposed mine has been handled entirely on the state level, through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Federal involvement is a new wrinkle that could further delay the project, said Michelle Halley, an attorney for the National Wildlife Foundation, which opposes the mine.
“This really brings in a whole new layer of protection for our groundwater resources,” Halley said.
Kennecott spokeswoman Deborah Muchmore said the Salt Lake City-based company didn’t expect the EPA’s involvement to pose a serious obstacle.
Much of the information needed for the federal permit is readily available because it also was required for a state groundwater discharge permit the company is seeking, Muchmore said.
“We’re going to do whatever is required, whether by the EPA or DEQ,” she said.
The DEQ last month tentatively approved Kennecott’s application for three permits, including one for groundwater discharge. The department has scheduled public hearings for Marquette and Lansing next month and could make a final ruling as early as May.
Traub said it would take about six months for the EPA to process an application for an Underground Injection Control permit. A 45-day period would be set aside for public comment and a hearing might be conducted, she said.
Kennecott’s Eagle Mine would be located in northwestern Marquette County, in the isolated Yellow Dog Plains region. The company is targeting a six-acre underground deposit expected to yield 250 million to 300 million pounds of nickel and about 200 million pounds of copper.
Supporters say the project would bring needed economic activity and jobs. Opponents say the mining could release sulfuric acids that could leach into groundwater and the nearby Salmon Trout River, a Lake Superior tributary.
Kennecott would build a plant at the site to treat wastewater, including water pumped from below ground as the mine is built, said Ross Micham, an EPA geologist. Treated water would filter underground through a large network of pipes.
The DEQ’s groundwater discharge permit would regulate the filtration system under authority of the Clean Water Act. A separate EPA permit is needed because the state doesn’t regulate for compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, Traub said.
“Heaven forbid, if anything should go wrong we want to be able to enforce our own permit,” she said.
Source: AP via Yahoo News