Mary Annette Pember

Wisconsin Tribes Urge EPA to Use Clean Water Act to Stop Gogebic Taconite Mine

Mary Annette Pember

The Wisconsin Federation of tribes has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to use the 404 C portion of Clean Water Act to stop mining activity by Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) in the Penokee Mountains located on the edge of the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation.

RELATED: Gogebic Taconite and the Penokee Hills: The Battle Rages On

Tribes in Alaska successfully used a similar tactic to halt silver and gold mining earlier this year near Bristol Bay, noted Mike Simonson in an article in the Ashland Daily Press.

RELATED: Native Alaskans Laud Environmental Protection Agency’s Nixing of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay

Section 404c of the Clean Water Act protects treaty rights, aquatic resources, fisheries, wildlife, subsistence and public uses of public waterways. In the May 27 letter, signed by the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, St. Croix and Sokoagon Ojibwe Bands, tribes maintain that mining activities by GTAC will threaten the health of the western Superior Basin and Bad River Watershed.

According to Mark Anthony Rolo, Communications Director for the Bad River tribe, this issue has been added to the agenda of the annual EPA Region 5 Regional Tribal Operating Committee meeting next month in Traverse City, Michigan.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, long time supporter of GTAC’s plan to build the large open pit iron ore taconite mine near Lake Superior, is “crying foul,” according to an editorial in the Capital Times. Walker “hopes the EPA will not step in to evaluate the environmental effects of the project before other state and federal agencies are given the opportunity to act on any permits for the project.”

He further expressed concerns that the EPA might politicize the process of evaluating the mine.

Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said, “Gov. Walker has done everything he can to grease the skids for this out of state mining company to get their law then their mine. We washed our hands of him. Unfortunately now he is trying to interfere with the tribes sovereign relationship with the federal government. Walker’s comments characterizing the treaties and trust responsibility as “politics” is just another example of why Bad River has gone to the federal level.”

Bob Seitz, Director of External Affairs for GTAC, expressed surprise about the tribes’ request for EPA evaluation of the mining process.

“We are following and trust the science and experts in this process. The experts at the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers do a good job of protecting the environment; their process if rigorous,” he said.

Asked if GTAC is concerned about EPA’s possible involvement with the mine he said, “We are concerned about anything that would block the process of gathering science and data. We are working with state and federal authorities to ensure they have everything they need to make a good decision.”

There have been differing claims regarding the presence of asbestos and sulfite in the rocks at the proposed mining sites and the possibility that the mining process would release these poisonous contaminants into the environment.

RELATED: Deadly Asbestos Could Kill Gogebic’s Iron Ore Mine Project

Last week, GTAC filed a license renewal with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that includes plans for six new drilling sites in a four-mile area east of the town of Mellen in eastern Ashland and western Iron counties.

According to a WDNR press release the department has 10 days to review and issue a response to the application.

The mining controversy has attracted national and international media attention. On Friday, the Bad River community viewed the premier of a documentary episode of Al Jazeera’s America’s Fault Lines series, “Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff,” according to Rolo.

The 30-minute investigative film “tells the story of how GTAC and its allies wielded money and power to influence the law, and goes behind the scenes with the burgeoning movement to resist the mine. It explores the potential harms the mine might bring, from asbestos exposure to acid runoff into the waterways in the area,” according to the organization’s press kit.

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