MILWAUKEE (AP) - An investor who's trying to develop an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin also owns a coal mine in Illinois that's accused of doing too little to resolve long-standing water pollution problems.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is seeking enforcement action over Macoupin Energy, alleging that the company isn't adequately addressing groundwater problems at its Shay 1 mine in Carlinville, Ill., the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The agency said it plans to refer the case to the Illinois attorney general's office.
Macoupin is one of four Illinois mines owned by billionaire Christopher Cline, who wants to build a $1.5 billion iron ore mine just south of Lake Superior if Wisconsin's Legislature rewrites mining laws to the company's satisfaction.
The proposed Wisconsin mine, known as Gogebic Taconite, is at the center of a debate over whether Wisconsin should ease environmental safeguards and make other regulatory changes to the process of granting mine permits. The Assembly is poised to approve a GOP-backed bill Thursday that would make those changes. The bill, which narrowly passed the Senate last week, would then go to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign it.
Republicans say the mine would create hundreds of jobs for the economically depressed region, while Democrats and conservationists fear the bill will relax environmental protections and lead to devastating pollution.
Cline and his Foresight Energy Partners' mines have emerged as a major figure in Illinois' coal mining industry. In 2011 the company produced 10.4 million tons of coal, the most in the state, according to the Illinois Office of Coal Development.
But the Illinois EPA has accused Foresight of failing to adequately comply with a voluntary plan to clean up pollutants in groundwater at its Shay mine, agency documents reveal.
The groundwater had been polluted by the coal mining arm of ExxonMobil, the mine's previous owner. Foresight agreed to clean up the water when it bought the mine in 2009.
The Illinois EPA says the company hasn't worked fast enough to clean up sulfate, iron, manganese and total dissolved solids that have leached into groundwater. The agency said swift action is needed because pollutants in the groundwater are spreading and have been detected outside of the mine's property.
A Foresight representative said the company wouldn't comment about the matter.
Foresight CEO Michael Beyer wrote to authorities on Dec. 31 that the company was complying with its clean-up agreement.
"We are surprised and frankly angered to have received this notice," Beyer said.
Shay and other Illinois mines owned by Cline have violated water pollution standards 53 times over the past three years, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records.
Kimberlee Wright, the executive director of Madison-based law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates, said the history of Cline-owned mines in Illinois had caused concern in Wisconsin. She speculated that Gogebic could encounter environmental problems, and she worried that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources lacked the ability to adequately regulate what would become one of the largest mines in the nation.
"They don't have the staff and they don't have the resources now," Wright said of the Wisconsin DNR.
Ann Coakley, a DNR mining regulator, said the agency could ask for more money in the future, and she pledged that the DNR would play the role of vigorous regulator.
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