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House to vote on bill to loosen up mining permit process

A copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.
Richie Diesterheft
Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Some environmentalists are worried a bill moving through the state Legislature would give mining companies too much leeway.

Under the bill, mining operators would be able to make certain changes to their permits without going through an amendment process or public review. Instead, they’d be required to give written notice of modifications to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, is the bill’s sponsor. During an April meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee, he said the bill was “designed to separate the permitting process from environmental concerns and simple building concerns ... [like a] security shack or more office space.”

“What we're trying to do here is simplify just those things. Anything connected to the actual mining part of it, the environmental part of it, would still have to go through Part 632, through a public hearing. If there was a major change to the operation -- we're not affecting that,” Casperson said.

The bill says “a permittee may relocate, reconfigure, or modify surface or underground facilities.”

Environmentalists are concerned that would allow mining operators to go ahead with major underground expansions without a public review process.

“Right now, [mining operators] have to go through a full permit redo to expand significantly underground,” says Sean Hammond of the Michigan Environmental Council. “[Under this bill] all you have to do is give notice to the DEQ that you’re not going to prove an environmental risk or a subsidence risk, and within a very short time you’ll get your approval – no public review, no public comment.”

The legislation has already passed the Senate, and a House vote is expected on Tuesday.

Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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