Michigan voters should not be fooled by the latest effort of environmental groups, called "Mi Water," that purportedly would regulate mining in the state. The ballot proposal does not regulate mining as much as it effectively bans future mining in Michigan.
The Mi Water proposal heaps numerous new requirements on the mining industry, including a ban on mining in areas less than 2,000 feet from a body of water (which, as it happens, describes most of the Upper Peninsula). Additionally, the proposal calls for numerous and cumbersome administrative requirements for assessments, notifications and permit reviews.
If the proposal does not kill mining by a thousand cuts with expensive and time-consuming bureaucratic processes, it definitely will drive a stake through the heart of future mining in ore-rich Michigan. The hand wielding that stake is the proposal's requirement that before a mine can be built it has to be shown that a similar mine in a similar environment elsewhere in the United States and Canada has not harmed the environment in the previous five years of operation — essentially a requirement to prove a negative.
Michigan legislators passed a 2004 sulfide mining law that brought together a coalition of environmental groups, mining interests and others that agreed to a set of regulations that many consider to be the toughest in the United States. One has to now wonder if environmental groups agreed to the legislation because they believed the mining industry could not comply with its strict requirements. The Kennecott Eagle nickel mine near Marquette, however, met those requirements and is moving forward, much to the dismay of environmental groups who were at the table when the sulfide mining law was crafted.
There is nothing more damaging to job creation in Michigan than regulatory uncertainty. The 2004 sulfide mining law was supposed to provide certainty. Mi Water is not only poor environmental policy, it further damages Michigan's reputation as a stable place to do business.
Current Michigan mining law protects the state's water resources and allows the mining industry to invest in the state, providing desperately needed jobs, especially in the U.P. where unemployment ranges from 10.3 percent to 23.8 percent. Hopefully, Michigan residents will see Mi Water for what is, an anti-development proposal that has little to do with protecting the environment.
Russ Harding is senior environmental analyst and director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.