show details 10:38 AM (9 hours ago)
"the rest of the story" about the sulfide copper-nickel mining industry
being proposed for northeastern Minnesota.
Subject: sulfide mining
Lake County Chronicle
An inquisitive group of about 45 Lake and St. Louis County residents gathered last week at the Two Harbors Community Center, anxious to hear "the rest of the story" about the sulfide copper-nickel mining industry being proposed for northeastern Minnesota.
Local mass media has painted a rosy picture of jobs and economic growth coming from this new kind of mining. Not surprisingly absent in the mining propaganda are the grim realities of the toxic pollution problems inherently associated with the mining of sulfide ore bodies and the legacy of public-funded clean up costs to taxpayers, which number in the billions of dollars nationwide. Sulfide mining, also called non-ferrous metallic minerals mining and copper-nickel mining, is "not your father's mining". Its environmental impact greatly exceeds that of the iron and taconite mining we have all grown up with. Sulfide ore bodies, in which trace amounts of valuable metals are embedded, once exposed to air and water, generate sulfuric acid. Once this chemical process (Acid Mine Drainage) starts, it cannot be reversed and will continue for hundreds, and more likely thousands of years. Sulfuric acid runoff from the massive volume of waste rock piles and strip mine pits will leach into our surface waters and groundwater if not effectively controlled and treated. This kind of control has not yet been demonstrated. A metallic sulfide mine has never failed to pollute its watershed.
Our good neighbors in Wisconsin have found an effective control measure for sulfide mining. They have legislatively enacted a moratorium that will permit sulfide mining only after it has been demonstrated that it has been done elsewhere safely for 10 years and that such a mine has been closed for 10 years without any negative aftereffects. So far no company has been able to meet the criteria of this law. Minnesota has not yet adopted this kind of caution to protect our environment.
A new Canadian mining company, PolyMet is presently in the permitting process with Minnesota's DNR, including an environmental impact statement (EIS) which is due out soon, to be followed by a brief period of public input. The proposed mine site is just outside of Babbitt MN, and surrounded by the Partridge River, a Lake Superior tributary. If PolyMet is allowed to proceed, it will set off a ripple effect, with many other mining companies ready to pursue prospects of their own. These new mining prospects will expand mining into new areas of the Arrowhead country, including the Spruce Road area near Birch Lake, less than 1 mile from the BWCA. Settled areas such as the Bassett-Fairbanks community, could be next, with more than 9000 acres of 50-year mineral rights leases recently purchased from the state in that area.
Even though our iron mining industry is healthy, our politicians are anxious to bring even more non-diversified non-sustainable industrial growth to Minnesota's Arrowhead. Rep. James Oberstar has introduced a bill in the House to facilitate the sale of 6,700 acres of Superior National Forest land to PolyMet, without waiting for the results of the EIS, and without possibility of appeal of its authority or provisions. The bill, HR4292, sets a dangerous precedent of sale of such a large parcel of national forest land to a foreign, private industry without public input.
North Shore Watershed Watch and ACTNOW, the groups which organized this meeting, believe that the environmental problems such an industry would bring to our water-rich environment are not being adequately addressed or shared with the public. After viewing the evening's presentation, most of those in attendance, including residents who traveled from Brimson and Ely areas, agreed and were looking for ways to express their anger and frustration.
Other questions coming from the group which should be considered in deciding about the future of this industry in our state were: how long are the jobs generated locally likely to last? Do domestic or foreign companies stand to profit most from extraction of these minerals? Where are the markets for the minerals – we all use them, but would these be used domestically or go to China, India, etc.? What is the rush – the minerals aren't going anywhere are they? There will still be a market for them after however many years it takes to find out if they can be mined safely. Has there been an energy budget proposed for this industry? Given the rising cost and diminishing supply of energy, will it have to compete with the taconite industry for energy? And the taconite industry requires clean water – will they be working at cross purposes on that front too? You mean, I can't run over a cattail with my ATV, but a Canadian mining company can destroy a thousand acres of wetlands? So, this is like a grand experiment with our forests and water resources?
Will the financial benefit to today's generation be at the expense of tomorrow's generation? Only our descendants' will be able to answer that question.
Two Harbors MN