Environmental Protections Must be Upheld as Mining Expands
March 12, 2009
Geoff Gisler, SELC Associate Attorney, 919-967-1450
EDF - Sam Pearsall, 919-881-2938
EDF - Dave McNaught, 919-881-2921
Sierra Club - Molly Diggins, 919-833-8467
N.C. Coastal Federation - Jim Stephenson, 252-393-8185
CHAPEL HILL, NC
“This permit challenge asks whether PCS’s mine expansion has to comply with the laws protecting the environment, fisheries and public health,” said Geoff Gisler, attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “The long-term economic and environmental health of eastern North Carolina depends on the state holding PCS to those standards. By issuing this permit, the state is strip-mining the law and the region’s future.”
In April 2008, after delaying the permit process for several years by pushing for illegal mining in public waters and pursuing court proceedings, PCS Phosphate--a subsidiary of Potash Corp of Saskatchewan, Inc.--applied for a permit to destroy approximately 4,000 acres of wetlands and almost five miles of streams along the Pamlico River and upriver from the Pamlico Sound, an area about two-thirds the size of Ocracoke Island. By permitting the mine expansion in January 2009, the state authorized this massive destruction.
A pre-existing permit authorizes ongoing mining by PCS Phosphate until December 2017. The company has identified about 70,000 acres of land in the area that contain economically recoverable phosphate ore.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pamlico River and its tributary creeks are critical parts of an essential nursery habitat for most commercial and recreational fish and shellfish in the North Carolina coastal area and important habitat for waterfowls, shorebirds and other migratory birds.
“Expanding the existing mine into sensitive wetlands threatens immediate and long-term harm to these ecosystems and natural resources,” said Pat Carstensen, chair of the NC Chapter, Sierra Club.
The most immediate impacts would be felt in adjacent waters. According to records from the last 11 years, the section of the Pamlico River within Beaufort County produced nearly $3 million annually in commercial finfish and shellfish harvests. Annual commercial landings for Beaufort County had an average dockside value of $6.5 million between 1994 and 2005. Effects from the mine would also be felt further downstream, adversely affecting the statewide commercial finfish and shellfish industry in North Carolina which produced nearly $1 billion annually between 1994 and 2005.
Because of these impacts, both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries recommended denial of PCS Phosphate’s proposed mine expansion. The National Marine Fisheries Service and the South Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission have also publicly declared that the mine expansion would do long-term damage to fisheries in this estuary system.
In addition to providing habitat, natural wetlands improve water quality, buffer hurricanes and storms, and act as freshwater reservoirs when water is scarce. These benefits are ever more vital for North Carolina as the climate changes.
In filing today’s challenge in state administrative court the Southern Environmental Law Center represents Environmental Defense Fund, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, and North Carolina Sierra Club. The suit is filed against the North Carolina Division of Water Quality.
About Southern Environmental Law Center
About North Carolina Sierra Club
About Pamlico-Tar River Foundation
The North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) is the state’s only non-profit organization focused exclusively on protecting and restoring the coast of North Carolina through education, advocacy and habitat restoration and preservation. http://www.nccoast.org/
A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit http://www.edf.org/ .