Club sues DEQ over mine’s revised permit

MARQUETTE – The Huron Mountain Club has filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, challenging the agency’s June issuing of a revised air quality permit for the Eagle Mine on the Yellow Dog Plains.

The suit was filed recently in Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing. The lawsuit said a court review under state law requires at a minimum, a determination whether the DEQ’s finding, ruling or decision was authorized by law.

The Ann Arbor law firm of Hooper, Hathaway, Price, Beuche and Wallace, and counsel from Munsch Hardt Kopf and Harr of Dallas, Texas, are representing the Huron Mountain Club.

“Approval of the permit was arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with the law,” the complaint read. “The failure of MDEQ to require an environmental impact statement for the revised project was, likewise, arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with law.”

The club’s attorneys have asked the court to find the DEQ’s issuing of the permit to be invalid. Alternatively, the club wants the DEQ to be required to obtain and evaluate a “proper” environmental impact statement for the Eagle Mine, Humboldt Mill and Marquette County Roads 510, 550 and AAA, which serve as part of the Lundin Mining Corporation’s haul route from the mine to the mill.

Production of nickel and copper at the mine is scheduled to begin late next year.

DEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel said the agency respects the right to challenge its decision, but he thinks the permit issuing decision will be upheld, similar to several other court challenges to state permits issued previously for the Eagle mining operation.

“We took a very long hard look at this,” Wurfel said. “We put this through extensive review.”

Wurfel said a great deal of “carefulness” and “thoughtfulness” went into the DEQ decision to issue the revised permit.

The permit update was necessary because former mine owner Rio Tinto made several changes on-site since its original air use permit application was approved in 2007. Some of the modifications listed by the DEQ included eliminating on-site ore crushing, adding an enclosed aggregate storage building and eliminating a fabric filter dust collector.

Rio Tinto officials said the changes resulted in reduced emissions from the mine.

Earlier this year, the DEQ opened a public comment period, which closed March 18, and held a public hearing March 12 on the agency’s proposed conditional approval of the permit. Afterward, the DEQ’s Air Quality Division received 44 written comments and 22 verbal comments on the issue.

Air Quality Division Chief G. Vinson Hellwig announced in late June he had approved the new permit, with modifications.

Some of those changes required included clarifying which roads needed to be paved, requiring haul trucks traveling on-site to have their loads covered or a dust suppressant applied, limits on the number of ore trucks leaving the facility and additional description of the underground dust suppressant controls added to required record keeping.

A testing schedule for the mine vent air raise was moved ahead to require testing within 60 days once ore production begins and nickel and copper emissions limits were added to the air raise.

The lawsuit alleges numerous problems with the permit application or the review.

Among them, the lawsuit asserts the “new” application for a permit to install must undergo the same scrutiny as the original application and must comply with applicable regulatory requirements.

“MDEQ failed to engage in such an analysis,” the complaint read.

The suit also claims the DEQ abdicated its “statutorily imposed responsibility to protect the natural resources of the state by failing to properly and comprehensively evaluate the impacts of the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine project.”

The DEQ, as it relates to the processing of the permit, “failed to acknowledge the interrelated and ‘connected’ nature” of the mine and mill locations, the lawsuit claimed.

“MDEQ has chosen, blindly, to evaluate the impacts from the two locations separately, despite the obvious connection between them and the cumulative effect of their operation,” the suit states.

The suit also claims the DEQ failed to accurately calculate the project’s potential to emit pollution, conducted improper soil impact analysis and conducted inappropriate analysis on whether the best available control technologies were implemented to minimize the emission of toxic air contaminants.

Additional allegations detailed in the lawsuit included alleged fugitive emission calculation deficiencies, failure to require a case-by-case study demonstrating all hazardous air pollution emissions are within Clean Air Act limits, improper modeling data and analysis and insufficient permit analysis and conditions which are unenforceable and failure to comply with Michigan administrative codes.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.