Opinion Piece Illustrates Mining Concerns

The Dickinson Press ran an opinion piece by Wayne F. Fisher, stating concerns about the future of mining in North Dakota. Fisher points out the some key problems with the PSC and the current regulatory process in his state.

Letter: Citizens should be concerned about contaminants

In the very near future the Public Service Commission will be determining if Great Northern Power Development should be permitted to mine coal near South Heart. Citizens should be concerned about erionite, uranium, mercury and other potential contaminants which are prevalent in the South Heart area.

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources reported contaminated uranium mines near Belfield and Griffin, resulting in the deaths of 2,500 sheep, six cattle, many sick cows and sheep which “glowed a blue hue.” North Dakota and U.S. taxpayers paid for the cleanup.

DMR Director Lynn Helms, stated “…. something that contains uranium you’ve got to worry a lot about dust…that’s going to be our number one worry.”

Al Lukes, a consultant for GNPD, stated that uranium will be produced into an ash that’s a glossy substance which could be used on roads for dust suppression. Unbelievable!

Erionite, according to state Department of Health, is asbestos-causing lung cancer. Mining should be prohibited in specific areas. In Libby, Mont., an actual asbestos contamination, vermiculite, resulted in the deaths of 200 people. So again, the taxpayers may be paying for this cleanup.

Mercury, a contaminant released by coal-fired plants, could be present in fish. NDDOH warns that mercury can damage adults’ kidneys, nervous systems, vision. Young children, developing fetuses and breastfed babies are at most risk — damage the brain.

Recently, the PSC abandoned a reclamation coal mine project; the contractors stated that $1.2 million to reclaim 150 acres was insufficient. They demanded $3 million, increasing the cost from $8,133/acre to $20,000/acre. At least 100,000 acres in North Dakota should be reclaimed, costing taxpayers more than $2 million.

Agriculture is the economic engine that drives the North Dakota economy and agriculture turns the dollars fastest in our economy.

Will mining companies forfeit their insufficient bonds for reclamation, walking away with billions of dollars? The U.S. economic crisis and political climate may eliminate any future cleanup funds.

The PSC mission statement mandates that it “protect the public interest and regulate utilities, mining companies and licensees in a fair, efficient, responsive and cooperative manner.” If you examine the history of mining in North Dakota or the rest of the country, it is a history filled with huge holes and huge problems.

The PSC is very good at providing permits to the mining companies; but they have a dismal record on proactive regulations, focusing only on short-term gains.


Wayne F. Fisher, Dickinson



About Stevie Moe

Program Assistant for Plains Justice
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