Proposed fund would help reclaim old mines

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Mining reclamation projects such as creating a safety barrier between an abandoned mine and a hiking trail, and research projects in new mining technology could get a boost under proposed legislation

State lawmakers are considering new ways to pay for mining research and mine restoration.

The proposed Metallic Mineral Mine Reclamation Fund would be used to fill tunnels, shafts and entryways of land that had previously been used for mining. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy would be in charge of the expenditures.

Also under consideration is the Ferrous Mining Research and Design Fund that would create a  process for public colleges and universities that focus on mining and geology to apply for research grants. Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan University and others are examples of schools that would be eligible for these grants.

Over half of the $450,000 proposed to be added to the two funds annually would be paid for by a local tax of schools and government. The bill states that the taxing would begin on Oct. 1, 2023 and continue until Sept. 30, 2033.

The bills were introduced by Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette. Committee testimony was taken in September.

“Given all the abandoned mines in the Upper Peninsula and the need to protect public health and safety and the environment, I think overall it’s a pretty good idea,” said Nick Occhipinti, the state government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.  

While his group, “absolutely supports the idea of funding more reclamation activities,” the group says the legislation has its flaws, including where the money would come from.

“Currently, it’s diverting money from local governments and schools,” Occhipinti, “That’s probably not a good funding source, and we need funding that’s more sustainable.”

The bill could do more, said Tim Minotas, the legislative and political coordinator of the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, an environmental advocacy organization.

“We want to see more money,” Minotas said. “We feel that’s not enough, but we are also concerned about taking away from local governments.”

“Generally we are opposed to anything that takes funding away from local schools,” said Thomas Morgan of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.

“On the other hand this legislation does provide support for universities looking at training students for 21st century mining jobs. So we are neutral,” Morgan said.

The Sierra Club and Michigan League of Conservation Voters are aligned in their stances of needing more money to fund reclamation projects and create a “circular economy” in mining.

Occhipinti said “$250,000 is enough to fund staff.”

“It’s not enough to do the actual work,” he said. “It is good to have staff on the ground, but how do we actually do the work of reclamation from an environmental and human health and safety perspective?”

Another proposed change is the creation of an eight-member Mining Advisory Committee to advise the state “on matters pertaining to mining, including the reclamation of mining areas,” according to the bill. 

Six members of the committee would “have knowledge of mining” and the other two members would represent the public, according to the bill.

The vagueness of the Mining Advisory Committee and how its members are selected are worrisome to Minotas. 

“Simply put, the language around representation is too vague,” Minotas said. “It doesn’t include any specific representation from environmental or tribal voices, which we would like to see.” 

Committee members would be appointed by the director of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. Two members would serve one-year terms, two would serve two-year terms, two would serve three-year terms and two would serve four-year terms.

Occhipinti said, “We ultimately see it as a good idea to have a mining advisory committee and we are interested in participating in that, but it has to be more balanced in terms of its representation.”

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