CHAMPION, Mich. (WLUC) – A new bill for existing Michigan mines is heading to the governor’s desk awaiting approval.
In 2004, Part 632 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act was created to help protect the environment during mining operations but still allow mines to function properly.
After Eagle Mine began operations, personnel found the law to be quite restrictive, even for very small changes at the mine site. For the last eight months, the company has been working with the MDEQ, Michigan House, Senate and other interested parties on ways to make this law more flexible and efficient.
“When we created Part 632 with many different stakeholders throughout the state of Michigan over 10 years ago, we didn’t quite think about all the different scenarios that could come up during an actual mining operation. So an example would be if you built a new house, you design that house in a certain way, you design the rooms in a certain location. But after living in that house for a couple years, you’ve decided maybe we want that room a little bigger, maybe we want different furniture or a different color on the wall. And so things change, we find things that could improve safety, could improve environmental performance, and we wanted the flexibility from the regulators to be able to do those changes that would actually improve the operations,” explains Matt Johnson, Manager of External Affairs at Eagle Mine.
This new law, Bill 839, would allow for existing mines to make minor changes in location or configurations of mining operations, as long as there is no adverse environmental impact. These changes will only need approval of the DEQ, while significant changes will need a permit amendment and public input.
“So what we’ve done is we make it a simple permit for those type of activities. DEQ still retains control over it, in that if they don’t agree and think it is something relevant to the environmental part of the mining operation, then it would have to go back through 632, but otherwise they would sign off and they would only be required to get a simple permit for a building,” says Sen. Tom Casperson, of Michigan’s 38th District.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality supports the new bill saying quote, “It clarifies permit process requirements and allows the DEQ to focus time and resources on protection of the environment, public health, and resources instead of on minor modifications to mining plans.”
There are people opposed to the bill, but Sen. Casperson believes those people are generally against mining as a whole.
Eagle Mine doesn’t have any construction plans right now, but wants this change in legislation in case they, or other mines, decide to make improvements.
“As Eagle Mine matures in operations and we experience opportunities to improve the way that the mine is regulated by the state of Michigan to create flexibility that continues to be protective of the environment, it will allow flexibility for the future operations of Eagle but also for other mines that may be proposed in the state of Michigan. This is important for the future of Michigan’s economy, for the health of our communities and also for the critical minerals that are required for electric vehicles, solar panels, wind mills and the products we all enjoy every day,” Johnson says.
Bill 839 has already passed through both the Michigan Senate and House, and is awaiting the governor’s signature.