He is, however, deeply concerned about the environment. He is a man in love with Michigan‘s woods and rivers and trout streams and his cabin in the Upper Peninsula. But now he is deeply worried.
He thinks there’s a strong potential for a huge environmental disaster in Michigan, one that could be as devastating locally as the horrendous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
And he is not alone. The focus of his concern is a proposed nickel and copper mine which is about to be dug beneath the Salmon Trout River in the western Upper Peninsula.
Kennecott Minerals Corporation thinks there may be five to ten billion dollars worth of nickel and copper ore there. They are prepared to spend almost half a billion dollars to get it out of the ground. Environmentalists and Native Americans have opposed this from the start. But Michigan is desperate for jobs. And despite their appeals, state officials have given the mine the go-ahead.
Phil Power thinks we’re asking for disaster. True, he told me, the mine would create a few hundred jobs. But he thinks many of them would go to out-of-state workers, and none would last more than a decade or so. He said, “this would bring big-time industrial development to one of Michigan’s most pristine wilderness spots and threaten long-term tourism, fishing and hiking, perhaps forever.“
Some Native Americans say the site is also sacred to them. Kennecott, the company that is preparing to dig the mine, is a subsidiary of the giant Rio Tinto conglomerate, which is based in Great Britain. They claim they will take maximum safety precautions, and say that when they are done, everything will be restored.
Power thinks it’s too risky. He notes the mining operations involve blasting into sulfide rock, which when exposed to air and water produces “acid mine drainage” which includes sulfuric acid and highly toxic dissolved heavy metals, like copper and nickel.
If that happens, it will kill all the fish -- and this river is one of the last known spawning grounds of the delectable Coaster Brook Trout, a native species prized by sportsmen and naturalists.
“Every such sulfide mine ever opened has produced long-term acid mine drainage,” Power says. He doesn’t believe Kennecott has a disaster plan for the environmental damage, any more than BP did.
He also says there were flaws and suspicious behavior in the permit process. An aide to Governor Jennifer Granholm who helped her decide to support the mine later left her team to work for Kennecott. Another got involved with an abortive business deal with the firm.
Nevertheless, the mine looks likely to happen, though Kennecott is still awaiting a permit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Power has a bad feeling about all this.
“In the Gulf of Mexico oil spill scandal, it has become clear the agency with regulatory oversight of the offshore drilling industry was captured by the very industry it was supposed to regulate.”
He fears the same thing has happened in Michigan, and the proposed sulfide mine is another disaster waiting to happen.
And he desperately hopes he is wrong.