Viewpoint: Former mining lawsuit should make citizens wary of new mining laws
Just in case you thought mining interests could not sink any lower in their race to the bottom of the barrel in wrecking the environment and a real, sustainable economy, their corporate overlords have managed to achieve a new low. I refer you to the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith.
Remember that escapade? It was going to bring wealth and prosperity to Rusk County. Only it didn’t really work out that way. One of the real legacies of that exploitation is perpetual ground water contamination at the mine site, which is actually legal thanks to the efforts of the mining flunkies who helped rewrite state mining regulations.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin has ruled that the mine’s contamination of a tributary to the Flambeau River is a violation of the Clean Water Act on several counts. The DNR has recommended that the EPA now list that stream as “impaired” due to toxic levels of copper and zinc from the mining operation.
We know about the groundwater contamination from monitoring well results and about the stream contamination because a citizen and two resource protection groups sued to force the issue and won in the Western District Court. However, since accountability is not a concern of corporate mining, the Flambeau Mining Company, (or Kennecott Minerals or Rio Tinto of the UK), appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and won.
The appeals court never disputed the first court’s ruling on the Clean Water Act violations. It ruled instead that actions taken by the state of Wisconsin, when it issued the mining permit, shielded the mining company from prosecution and enforcement of the Clean Water Act. And therein lays the cautionary tale. No matter what they claim, once a mining company gets that permit, good luck to the state or anyone else trying to enforce the intent of law.
Alas, that is not the actual bottom of the barrel in this case. Rio Tinto, one of the wealthiest mining corporations in the world, is now asking for recovery of its legal expenses of $157,000, from the original plaintiffs. Those plaintiffs are The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, the Center for Biological Diversity (Tucson, AZ), and a private citizen. Apparently, it was not sufficient that FMC/Kennecott Minerals/Rio Tinto got away with violating the Clean Water Act. Is it possible that the billions the mining interests rake in annually are just not enough?
Diana C. Smith, Tomahawk