DEQ geologist discusses mining in the U.P.

HOUGHTON – A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official on Sunday discussed the DEQ’s role in regulating mining in the state.

Joe Maki, DEQ Upper Peninsula district geologist, spoke at a monthly forum put on by the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Houghton.

Maki outlined several mining projects in the U.P., including the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine that is the first one approved under the state’s Part 632 mining regulation law.

Maki said legislators had designed the law to be strict enough to provide environmental protection while still allowing mining projects to proceed.

“If you can make money off of it, and still protect the environment, then it’s probably a viable project,” he said. “And if you can meet our requirements, by law we are required to issue a permit.”

Maki said environmental regulations compare favorably to other states.

Talking about what was commonly termed a moratorium on sulfide mining in Minnesota, Maki said it was more of a test. Companies first had to operate a mine for 10 years in North America without any environmental permit violations. They then had to show where a mine has been closed for 10 years with no violations.

Legislators had been leery of doing the same thing in Michigan, because the standard would rule out virtually all companies, Maki said.

“That is almost an unachievable standard over there, which is now gone, incidentally, because they just passed their new law,” he said.

Maki said exploration drilling is reaching into areas where it traditionally hasn’t been done because of more sophisticated data collection.

Mineral rights for most lands, including private property, are held by corporations, Maki said.

Under the mining permit, the company would have to prove it would not cause damage to natural resources.

“Just because you can drill there does not guarantee you’re going to be able to mine there,” Maki said.