Environmental Protections Must be Upheld as Mining Expands
A permit issued by the N.C. Division of Water Quality illegally approves the largest destruction of wetlands in the state’s history by PCS Phosphate, according to papers filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center today in state administrative court. The permit presumes the state will write new rules that accommodate the company’s ambitions. “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. “A win-win alternative must be found that will protect North Carolina’s economy, its environment and public health, instead of selling North Carolina’s people and natural systems short,” said Sam Pearsall, an ecologist from Environmental Defense Fund. 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 The Southern Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s staff of 40 attorneys includes experts on air and energy, water, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. SELC is a non-profit organization and works with more than 100 partner groups. www.SouthernEnvironment.org About North Carolina Sierra Club Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization with over 17,000 members in North Carolina. About Pamlico-Tar River Foundation The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, founded in 1981, is a grassroots environmental organization representing greater than 2000 members and a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. Our mission is to enhance and protect the Pamlico-Tar River watershed through education, advocacy, and research. About North Carolina Coastal Federation 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. www.nccoast.org About Environmental Defense Fund 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 www.edf.org.