- By Deborah Dawson
My primary goal as a member of CLEAN is simply to require the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to do it its job: to follow procedures requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would determine whether northward expansion of the Cargill Salt Mine poses potential environmental risks to Cayuga Lake and adjacent aquifers. That expansion cannot occur without construction of the proposed Shaft 4. That expansion is one of the reasons that Cargill wants to build Shaft 4. (Another purpose of Shaft 4 is to improve working conditions for Cargill's employees, and CLEAN's members certainly do not oppose that purpose.)
CLEAN has scientifically well-founded concerns about the potential environmental impacts of extending Cargill's mining operations northward under Cayuga Lake. (It is not my purpose here to review the science that underlies CLEAN's concerns, but the documents are available for review at http://cleancayugalake.org/documents/.) I want the DEC to do its job and review CLEAN's concerns comprehensively, objectively and transparently, before Cargill proceeds with building an expensive shaft to facilitate a mine expansion that may be dangerous. If it is found to be too dangerous to mine under the lake, I would want Cargill to mine its leases under solid ground, an undertaking that might require it to move its new shaft project.
The DEC has approved the Shaft 4 project without requiring an EIS, and they did this by issuing a Notice of Determination of Non-Significance (Neg Dec) under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. However, the Neg Dec was not based on an examination of the potential environmental impacts of mining under the lake. Rather, it was based on a review of Shaft 4 itself, as if the shaft had no connection whatsoever to the mine. In fact, the Neg Dec explicitly states that "[t]his application review and significance determination is only for the current 12.3 acre Life of Mine area included in this application." Regardless of what anyone tells you, no DEC scientist has determined that mining northward under Cayuga Lake is not dangerous. CLEAN is not saying that the DEC's scientific evaluation of the risks of northward mine expansion is wrong; what we are saying is that the DEC did not make any scientific determination with respect to those risks.
In fact, the DEC has never required Cargill to provide an EIS, for as long as Cargill has been mining under Cayuga Lake. A Stipulation entered into between Cargill and the DEC in January of 2000 provides one possible explanation for this. The Stipulation resolved a dispute relating to Cargill's application to expand its mine area by over 5,000 acres. The DEC contended that this expansion constituted a modification of Cargill's mining permit and requested additional information, which Cargill refused to provide. The Stipulation recites Cargill's position "that the Department [DEC] lacks statutory or regulatory authority to regulate . . . [Cargill's] underground mining operations and to require the submission of the information" that DEC had requested, and that Cargill "is entitled to approval of the Application, without further submissions or Departmental review."
For reasons not stated in the Stipulation, and without agreeing with Cargill's interpretation of its jurisdiction over mining operations, the DEC agreed to create a special procedure under which Cargill has submitted environmental information ever since. Cargill permits DEC representatives to make a pro forma visit to the mine once a year, but not to perform testing or studies on site. Cargill performs its own annual testing and evaluation of its operations, and sends its own report to the DEC and a third party consultant, who reviews and evaluates it and sends his report to the DEC. It’s not clear whether all of the documentation underlying Cargill’s report is actually provided to the DEC, since the agency has indicated, in response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, that it simply does not have some of that documentation. Moreover, Cargill has consistently maintained that much of its documentation is confidential under the trade secrets exemption to the FOIL.
This procedure, which applies only to Cargill's salt mine, is not the equivalent of an EIS. It may or may not be comprehensive and objective, and it is certainly not transparent. Cargill alone decides what information to generate and provide to the consultant. It's entirely possible that not all of the information provided to the consultant is forwarded to the DEC. The DEC must accept the consultant's evaluation of the information that Cargill chooses to share. And Cargill's frequent assertions of confidentiality make it unlikely that any member of the public will ever see much of the information upon which the consultant's evaluation is based.
So here's my bottom line as a member of CLEAN: it's the DEC's job to enforce the environmental laws of New York State and to regulate our salt mines. In fact, the DEC does require the American Rock Salt mine in Mt. Morris to follow EIS procedures. However, it allows Cargill to dictate the terms under which it will be regulated. That's just plain wrong, and we, as New York's citizens and taxpayers, have a right to demand that the DEC do its job. Consequently, CLEAN will be filing an Article 78 proceeding to require the DEC to rescind the Neg Dec and require Cargill to provide an EIS. If, as Cargill's many supporters in Lansing contend, salt mining operations under Cayuga Lake pose no risk to our lake and our aquifers, then Cargill should welcome the opportunity that an EIS would provide to address and eliminate the concerns raised by CLEAN's experts.
Village of Lansing