The fight for clean water

Regulations are necessary

The floods and mayhem resulting from Hurricane Harvey demonstrate the power and danger of water. We pray for all those affected by the flooding and encourage your generosity as parishes hold second collections for hurricane relief.

While water poses danger during natural disasters, it also sustains us. Without it, we face another calamity: drought which leads to death. Fresh drinking water, as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si, is “indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.”

Unethical mining practices are another threat to the environment.

Last month, Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on behalf of the Canadian bishops. Bishop Crosby outlined the bishops’ concerns about Canadian extraction companies operating in Latin America.

“Many of these companies are directly responsible for serious environmental degradation and human rights violations,” stated Bishop Crosby. “It is particularly unfortunate that their commercially driven interests have direct ill consequences on indigenous populations whose ancestral lands are being ravaged and depleted by unethical, unjust and irresponsible ways of mining.”

People who have opposed these operations have been met with violence, extortion and murder, according to the bishop.

“We cannot accept the unethical way Canadian mining companies have been operating in Latin America or other regions of the world, taking the absence of effective regulatory schemes as a reason to shirk their ethical responsibilities,” added Bishop Crosby.

Some of these concerns are shared by people in our own region.

Canadian mining companies are exploring sites in Wisconsin and Michigan for sulfide mining, which extracts zinc, gold, copper and silver from sulfide ores. One project along the Menominee River shoreline in the Upper Peninsula seeks to develop a sulfide mine within 100 feet of the river. Environmentalists, tribal governments, recreational groups and other concerned citizens say the mine poses risks to the river as well as Lake Michigan.

Aquila Resources of Toronto, the mining company overseeing the operation, called the Back Forty Project, has received three of four permits from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality to mine what it believes are 1 million ounces of gold and 1 billion pounds of zinc.

In Wisconsin, Aquila is also exploring proposed projects in Taylor and Marathon counties.

A bill making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature would end a moratorium on sulfide mining and revise regulations on mining projects. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report, Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) wrote the proposed legislation with the assistance of mining companies and other mine supporters.

Amber Meyer Smith of Clean Wisconsin, a Madison-based environmental group, called the bill “a huge weakening of oversight over sulfide mining in Wisconsin.” Clean Wisconsin claims sulfide mining practices cause acid mine drainage that results in tainted groundwater and destroyed ecosystems.

The mineral extraction industry is a billion-dollar business. Yes, the industry provides jobs, which is why some legislators want to ease regulations. But care for the earth and safe drinking water should not be casualties in a profit-oriented industry with a reputation for exploiting and polluting the land.