The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) over the proposed Aquila Resources Back Forty Mine, arguing that EPA and Corps have failed to take responsibility for reviewing wetland permits for the project. The lawsuit was expected since the Tribe filed a notice of intent to sue in November 2017.

Aquila Resources has proposed an open pit mine, deemed the “Back Forty Mine,” to extract gold, zinc, and other metals. The mine would be located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and adjacent to the Menominee River, which forms the boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan. The river flows into Lake Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (“MDEQ”) is the permitting authority and has issued three of the four permits required for the project, including a Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining Permit, a Michigan Air Use Permit to Install, and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. A permit for wetland impacts is still required and is under review by MDEQ. Given the location of the wetlands near a commercially navigable interstate waterway, normally the Corps and EPA would have wetland permitting authority and permitting would also trigger an obligation for the federal agencies to consult with the Tribe under the National Historic Preservation Act. However, MDEQ is one of two state agencies which has been delegated additional permitting authority under the Clean Water Act by EPA for permitting of wetlands under federal jurisdiction, and MDEQ is not required to consult with the Tribe.

The Tribe is alleging that the federal government has deprived it of treaty rights that are supposed to protect its cultural and historical sites. The Tribe’s sacred place of origin is within its 1836 treaty territory at the mouth of the Menominee River and there are numerous sacred sites and burial mounds located along the river, including in the area of the proposed mine. The Tribe is also concerned about the potential impact of acid mine drainage from the mine on the water and fishery resources in the area and Great Lakes ecosystem. According to the Tribe, it has been trying to meet and consult with the Corps and EPA for months, but the agencies have not responded in a meaningful way. The Tribe has asked the court to order EPA and the Corps to take over the wetland permitting process.

Watch this blog for additional updates.

A client alert issued today by Husch Blackwell’s environmental practice group details a major reversal of Obama-era policy by the Trump Administration.  The EPA announced it will not issue final regulations under CERCLA Section 108(b) imposing financial responsibility requirements on the hardrock mining industry. Abandoning a December 1, 2016 proposed rule, the EPA emphasized that after carefully evaluating public comments, statutory authority, and the extensive record it had concluded that the minimal environmental risk involved in modern mining practices combined with existing state and federal financial assurance requirements made the proposed rule unnecessary and unduly burdensome.  Read the entire client alert here.

Last week, Wisconsin state legislators introduced a proposal to repeal the so-called “moratorium” on the mining of sulfide ore bodies (i.e., mineral deposits in which nonferrous metals are mixed with sulfide minerals) in Wisconsin. The state law in question was enacted in 1998 over concerns that sulfide minerals exposed during mining activities can react with air and water to form acid drainage which can pollute groundwater and harm lake and stream life.

The moratorium is actually a requirement that prohibits Continue Reading Wisconsin Legislators Propose to Repeal State Metallic Mining “Moratorium”

Horn_Robert sachs_adam2016In the name of job creation, the Trump Administration is attempting to single-handedly bring back the coal industry via executive action.  But while the president may be scoring political points in coal country, as a practical matter that’s really not where energy sector job growth will come from in the next few years.

Nevertheless, the past several months have seen a resurgence of the long dormant coal industry.  Hampered by a number of factors Continue Reading Around the Horn: Trump’s Support for Coal and the Future of Renewables

gravel pit with an industrial gravel sorter machinery with beautiful sunburst color effectThe United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) issued a proposed rule on December 1, 2016 requiring hardrock mines to provide financial assurance demonstrating they are able to fund the costs associated with the future cleanup of the mines under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the federal statute designed to address releases of hazardous substances and the cleanup of hazardous waste sites nationwide. The new regulations, if finalized by the stated deadline of December 1, 2017, would add an additional
Continue Reading New Financial Responsibility Requirements on the Horizon for the Hardrock Mining Industry