Opinion: Respect local control over mining

Paul Mitchell

As the U.S. representative for Michigan’s 10th Congressional District, it is my duty to represent my constituents and district wherever necessary. Last week, it took me to Lansing to testify in opposition to a Michigan Senate bill (SB 431) that effectively eliminates local control over aggregate mine decisions and eases approval of permits for such mines in Michigan. Constituents contacted me to help voice their significant concerns about the impact this legislation could have upon human health, the environment, and their communities.

State Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, left, talks with U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryen, after a committee hearing in Lansing on Wednesday,  Jan. 22, 2020. Mitchell spoke in opposition to Hollier's bill that would limit local governments' ability to block mining operations.

In my district, for instance, an aggregate company has pursued a large gravel mine on the D-Bar-A Scout Camp in Metamora for many years. The location of the proposed mine is adjacent to a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site that is leaking dioxin — a highly toxic, federally-regulated chemical — into the surrounding groundwater. This contamination has resulted in discontinued use of drinking water wells for several surrounding residences. The EPA has ordered installation of additional monitoring wells to track contaminated groundwater, but it still does not have enough data to know the full extent and movement of dioxin in the groundwater in order to update the remediation plan for this Superfund site.

Gravel mines use substantial amounts of groundwater for processing, which could adversely impact this toxic plume. Under this proposed legislation a full environmental impact study would not be required to secure mining permits. Gravel mines also cause significant, ongoing disruptions to communities that require careful study and consideration.

Proponents of the bill argue it creates a uniform standard for approving gravel mines in Michigan. Rather, it designs an end run around existing laws, court decisions, and local governments and ignores significant environmental concerns and community impacts. The bill was drafted with guidance from aggregate mining interests to ensure expedient permitting and maximized profit with little consideration of community impacts or risks to human health and our environment.

Proponents of the bill derisively call its opponents NIMBYs — not in my backyard people. I do not believe supporting local control and serious study of significant environmental concerns about gravel mines, or any other development, is NIMBYism.

Our communities and our neighbors should be treated with respect. Our environment must be protected. Our laws and government regulations must reflect those simple principles.

I spent my career in private business. I celebrate successful businesses and understand profit is necessary in business as much as any proponent of this legislation. In the U.S. House of Representatives, I sit on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where I have advocated for improvements to our roads in Michigan and our nation. I understand the need for better infrastructure at a reasonable price and the role of businesses in that process. But these objectives should not overwhelm concerns about impacts on our communities, the environment, or human health.

There is a way to take a step back and consider other options to address the need for aggregates in Michigan. I believe that HB 5305 — while still not as good as it could be — is a better attempt at balancing protection of our communities and environment with the need for raw construction materials than SB 431. I hope that the Michigan Senate will carefully consider input from all Michigan residents to address this issue.

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, serves Michigan's 10th congressional district.