In the very nicely air-conditioned offices of Legislative District Office 18 in Tempe, Arizona Mine Inspector Candidate Bill Pierce urgently conveyed that the Mine Inspector’s Office is in immediate need of greater oversight funding and staff so abandoned mines can be found and secured, current operating mines could be adequately inspected and monitored, and environmental contamination to our ground and water supply could be halted before potentially adversely affecting the lives of all the people dependent on sources like the Colorado River.
Who is Bill Pierce?
Looking the part of someone who could be related to the Lost Dutchman of the Superstition Mountains, Mr. Pierce is an engineer who is certified through M.S.H.A. (Mining Safety Health Administration) in mines and O.S.H.A. job site safety certification with a subsurface and confined spaces endorsement. He has also received training from the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) in erosion control and groundwater protection. He is also licensed as a radiation safety officer through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He has over 40 years practical experience in both Michigan and mostly Arizona, working on residential, corporate military, engineering and mining-related projects like supervising the construction of an EPA compliant leaching pad in Safford for Phelps Dodge. He supports mining and realizes its importance in the construction, eating, and engineering industries, which are dependent on the materials (concrete, sand, copper, rock, gravel, and salt) that make these areas successful. In contrast to the current administration, led by Governor Ducey, he wants to promote a safer approach to the industry that minimizes the risk to people and the environment.
What does the Arizona Mining Inspector do and how does that person and department affect people’s lives?
The Primary purpose of the Arizona Mining Inspector and the office that person supervises is to ensure the safety of the people who work in the mines and all federal safety standards are followed. Furthermore, the department is in the process of locating and securing the approximately 1500 known abandoned mines in the state. Finally, the department informs the appropriate environmental protection authorities if they detect contamination that affects the soil and water supply.
These responsibilities are especially important today for the following reasons:
- Unfortunate deaths of individuals who inadvertently fall into or venture into an unsafe abandoned mine.
- Smugglers use these abandoned mines to hide illegal drugs or illegal immigrants.
- The Trump Administration’s allowing of 8600 mining claims, mostly uranium, to proceed in the Grand Canyon National Park area. THIS COULD LEAD TO A POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER (AND INTERNATIONAL CRISIS) BECAUSE IF ANY URANIUM IS ACCIDENTALLY LEAKED INTO THE COLORADO RIVER, THE WATER, DUE TO ANY LEAK, WOULD BE RENDERED UNUSABLE FOR 40,000,000 PEOPLE.
- Citing the historical example of the Church Rock, New Mexico mining accident, which affected the water supply of that area and the Navajo Indian Reservation in both New Mexico and Arizona (which probably contributed to a rise in cancer, diabetes, and obesity in that community afterwards), Mr. Pierce relays that there is an immediate need to secure the 592 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Reservation. There is a Superfund Cleanup but it, according to Mr. Pierce, is proceeding too slowly.
What Mr. Pierce wants to do as Arizona Mining Inspector?
Mr. Pierce wants to be the mouthpiece (a loud one if necessary) to alert the citizens of Arizona to the needs to have safe operational mines and safe and secured abandoned ones from the public.
He also wants to correct the current governor and state legislature’s mistakes in reducing the number of inspectors and resources necessary to inspect the mines in the state. In 2010 there were 12 inspectors charged with conducting quarterly inspections of all underground mines. Also, it is required that all other mines that employ 50 or more people receive quarterly inspections. Annual inspections are required for all surface mines employing up to 49. Today there are four inspectors to inspect nearly 300 operational mines, 1,523 known unsecured abandoned mines and an additional 592 known abandoned uranium mines. The state auditors that were charged with collecting the fines from mine operators that committed violations were laid off by the State to save money. The amount associated with the fines is somewhat of a joke. For example, one mine, in particular, owed the state over $100,000 in unpaid fines and interest for over 300 separate violations of MSHA safety rules. Considering the number of violations and the severity of some violations that could cause serious bodily injury, this is totally inadequate.
Mr. Pierce explained further by saying “to further illustrate the inadequate fines currently being levied, a uranium mine, located near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, in 2017, received one inspection, when it should have received four. During that one inspection, it was discovered that an incident of an undisclosed nature had occurred within the mine. That incident had not been reported as required by law to the Mine Inspector’s office. During the inspection, the inspector determined that not only had the incident occurred, but the mining company failed to preserve evidence of the incident. This drew a total of two citations; one for the incident and one for failure to preserve the evidence. The fines were levied for only $100 each.”
Furthermore, according to Mr. Pierce, “any uranium leak into the Colorado River will contaminate the water and surrounding soil for eons (the half-life of U-235 is 140 million years. U-238 is also found in this area and its half-life is 148 billion years.) It should also be noted that uranium is water-soluble and reactive to oxygen. As the water and oxygen start breaking down the uranium, it starts to form radon gas, a known carcinogen.”
Mr. Pierce went further in stating that “since mining in the Grand Canyon area is on Federal land, the Mine Inspector’s office is powerless to prevent this mining from going forward, but still is required to perform the inspections.” Since Mr. Pierce is a licensed radiation safety officer, he is required, by law, to warn people of any and all potential health hazards when dealing with the mining of uranium or any other radioactive materials, and he will do so.
To properly serve the people as Mining Inspector, Pierce wants:
- More inspectors to inspect the mines and locate the abandoned ones.
- More resources like the restoration of the state auditors that were laid off.
- A better and more accessible website.
- Greater coordination and outreach with diverse organizations that ordinarily have nothing in common like the Sierra Club and Off Roaders
- Increased fines starting at a minimum $20,000 for those violations committed in uranium mines.
- Educate on the merits of clean energy although his department has no authority to influence this area.
- Educate on the problems with mining in the Grand Canyon watershed and other areas that could harm the people, soil, and water supply although he lacks the authority to prevent mining in this area as well.
- Reaffirm the authority to shut down mines if they are found to be in environmental and safety noncompliance until all violations are corrected.
Mr. Pierce, with his campaign manager Mary Ann, who has worked on various Democratic Presidential Campaigns (Carter, Mondale, Gephardt, and Clinton) as well as being a Freedom Rider in Mississippi during the pivotal point in the fight for Civil Rights, wants to inaugurate a Red for Ed type movement to alert the people on the perils of mining safety, especially the potential drawbacks of mining in the Grand Canyon. Like Red for Ed, a substantial majority would support such a movement as Mr. Pierce cited 73 % of Arizona residents polled opposed such a mining venture at the Grand Canyon.
Both Mr. Pierce and his campaign manager have been crisscrossing the state to carry the campaign message. They also have a social media presence (please check out the sites below) and a staff of five paid members and ten volunteers. He, a Clean Elections candidate, would like to debate the current Mining Inspector, Joe Hart but the Clean Elections Board cancelled the event when it was confirmed that Mr. Hart was not a Clean Elections Candidate. Mr. Hart probably will be receiving donations from corporate and mining interests (as he has in the past) that favor the current lax status quo.
Without a safe environment (clean air, drinkable water, and uncontaminated soil where we can grow food and walk), we cannot live. It is that plain and simple. To follow the status quo of lax regulations and oversight advanced by Governor Ducey and his supporters is foolhardy and could potentially lead to environmental disasters of immense proportions if we are not careful. The state needs a good government mining regulatory and enforcement agency that is adequately staffed and resourced with the power to stop abuse when it occurs and to keep the people safe. Bill Pierce has the qualifications, knowledge, and experience to lead this agency and voters should consider his ideas and views when voting this November.