Report Shows that Great Lakes Remain Vulnerable to New Wave of Mining
By Jordan Lubetkin
Gaps, inconsistencies and loopholes in U.S. state and Canadian provincial laws are leaving the Great Lakes and other natural resources vulnerable to a new wave of mining activity sweeping the Upper Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and Canadian province of Ontario, according to a new legal analysis by the National Wildlife Federation and Ecojustice Canada.
“Weak laws and lax enforcement undermine efforts to protect our water, wildlife and communities from this dangerous form of mining,” said Michelle Halley, National Wildlife Federation attorney. “There is an urgent need for the region to address these issues now or likely face decades of contamination and clean-up.”
The report examines whether state and provincial laws are up to the task of overseeing a type of mining new to the region that has proven to be devastating to natural resources in parts of the western U.S. and Canada. So-called “sulfide mining” seeks to extract precious metals from sulfide rock formations—a process that produces mine waste that turns water into battery acid, devastating water resources and fish and wildlife habitat. Mines out West have been cited for hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act.
The National Wildlife Federation and Ecojustice—with the help of outside panels of experts—analyzed state and provincial statutes, regulations and implementation in the areas of: regulatory scope, review process, enforcement, program resources and reporting and official statements.
The report reveals that, across the region, laws do not offer adequate protections: The report assigns passing grades in only two out of 20 categories. Failing scores were assigned in six categories, with the remaining dozen receiving a “fair” score.
“As this report makes clear,” said Halley, “the status quo is not acceptable. The upper Great Lakes region is poorly positioned to adequately regulate the onslaught of new sulfide mining. Every state and province that we assessed needs to be doing a better job.”
The National Wildlife Federation is not alone in its concern about sulfide mining near the shores of Lake Superior.
“Now more than ever, Minnesota needs to take a firm stance when it comes to its future and sulfide mining,” said Scott Strand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “The push to dig an open pit mine near Hoyt Lakes and a massive underground mine near Ely and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area bolsters our commitment to make sure current laws protect citizens and are enforced.”
In the legal analysis, Wisconsin received good scores in two categories, making them an exception among their peers in the region. Conservationists, however, said the state still had a long way to go.
“While we may be faring better than our counterparts in Michigan and Minnesota, this study makes clear that Wisconsin has a long way to go before our residents can rest easy in regards to sulfide mining,” said George Myer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Michigan ranked considerably lower than its U.S. counterparts.
Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues at the Michigan Environmental Council, expressed hope for change as a result of the analysis.
“Through this process of identifying the flaws in sulfide mine permitting, regulation and enforcement, we hope the administration and the legislature can take steps now to ensure protection of the Great Lakes,” he said. “Our expectation was that Michigan's new law would have required a new generation of mines to be designed and operated in a manner that would truly protect our natural resources. Their implementation of the law to-date has been disappointing.”
Michigan tied with Ontario for the lowest scores.
“Clearly, both countries have serious work to do,” said Anastasia Lintner, staff lawyer with Ecojustice Canada. “The good news is that there is time to get this right. We urge public officials to bolster protections that will benefit people, wildlife and the region’s special places now and for generations to come.”
Sulfide Mining Regulation in the Great Lakes Region also reviewed the role of tribal governments in the permitting process and found that jurisdictions failed to consider tribal perspectives or have denied meaningful tribal input into decision making. This is despite the fact that tribal entities have substantial land holdings and treaty rights across the Upper Great Lakes region.
Chuck Brumleve is a mining specialist with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and knows firsthand the frustrations of tribal groups throughout the region.
"This report illuminates the real need for meaningful consultation with tribes,” he said. “In all three states, tribes may be ‘consulted’ but they are not being let in to the process to really influence decision-making. Even in situations where tribal interests in sacred sites are known, the state agencies have disregarded that.”
Review of the federal role, particularly the Clean Water Act and its implications, are also reviewed.
Tony Turrini, senior counsel at the National Wildlife Federation, connected the dots between what is happening in the Upper Midwest and on the national scene, particularly where water and the federal government are concerned.
"Where the states fall short of protecting the Great Lakes, the EPA should close the gaps,” said Turrini. “But, it is not. In fact, EPA needs to fix loopholes in its rules that allow the dumping of millions of tons of mine waste into surface water.”
Beyond identifying the flaws in sulfide mining permitting, regulation and enforcement throughout the area, the National Wildlife Federation analysis also includes a series of recommendations—some with jurisdiction-specific implications and others that apply throughout the region.
“It is our hope,” said Halley, “that this report will be used by regulators, citizens, tribes, affected communities and industry to inform better legislation, practices and overall regulation of sulfide mining.”
For more information, click here.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.