Guest Commentary: Mineral mining dubious in long runCanadian mining companies have one reason for setting their sights on northeastern Minnesota: extracting minerals.
By: Jane Koschak, Stony River Township, Lake County News Chronicle
Canadian mining companies have one reason for setting their sights on northeastern Minnesota: extracting minerals. They have no benevolent desire to create jobs or pay taxes. They have poured millions of dollars into their public relations campaign for the past five years, convincing and promising every regional politician that their project is the economy’s “savior,” knowing that if they spent enough time and money hyping job creation, they would be able to push through environmentally-risky mines.
Has anybody actually looked at how PolyMet came up with its 400 jobs number? Or are we supposed to just “trust them,” like we are supposed to trust in every part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) process?
Making promises is how this industry has always worked. By their own admission in the DEIS, PolyMet points to numerous pollution problems, including, but not limited to: “high risk situations for mercury methylization;” shipment, storage, and unloading of concentrated hydrochloric and sulfuric acids;” “filling of the east pit;” “sulfate would exceed the groundwater evaluation criteria;” the proposed use of the existing tailings basin, due to structural instability, has a “low margin of safety.”
The DEIS states that the basin is expected to leak. PolyMet’s proposed “alternative” solution to monitor and capture most of the “leakage” of toxic pollution is to merely transfer it to the Partridge River, which ultimately ends up in Lake Superior.
This is a low-grade sulfide ore deposit – so low that for every 1 percent of minerals extracted, 99 percent of the remaining rock is waste rock. This type of mining has never before occurred in Minnesota. Sulfide ore mining in Wisconsin resulted in the Flambeau River mining disaster. A moratorium on this type of mining will continue there until mining companies can demonstrate successful and safe mining practices. To date, no mining company has returned to Wisconsin to demonstrate this. Do Minnesotans believe our politicians when they say PolyMet “will do it right?” Let’s think again. PolyMet will have neither the incentive nor the resources to clean up their toxic messes.
PolyMet is vigilant in its claim that we need these metals for the electronic products we’re dependent upon. But when checking out the electronics stores, there certainly weren’t any shortages. Along with their hype of jobs, PolyMet’s propaganda for mining this ore is based on a fear of product shortages. No evidence of this exists.
Clean water is undeniably scarce and priceless. The lifeblood of northern Minnesota’s economy is its healthy waterways and watersheds. PolyMet’s proposed minerals extraction will result in acid mine drainage which will leach sulfuric acid from the nearly 400 million tons of waste rock into our waterways for “up to 2,000 years.” Damage to our water is inevitable and irrevocable.
Contrary to what our short-sighted legislators would like us to believe, there are thousands of concerned Minnesota citizens, and countless vacationers, who have serious issues with this proposed mining project. We owe it to our future generations to ensure that this politically-touted, 20-year sulfide mining project operate without irreversible harm to waterways and wetlands. It is up to the public to become educated and to voice concerns to the Minnesota DNR and the Army Corp of Engineers during the public comment period that ends Feb. 2.
Keep in mind that PolyMet is the first of a number of potential Canadian sulfide mining developers, including Duluth Metals and Franconia Minerals. Both are positioned and ready for the permitting process. If permitted, these developers will mine in sensitive wilderness areas resulting in potential water pollution throughout the Kawishiwi watershed and into the Boundary Waters. It is irresponsible of our politicians to extend unequivocal endorsement of the PolyMet project without considering the long-term effects of water pollution in our state.
We need tough financial assurances created by new common sense legislation, requiring that mining companies are 100-percent financially responsible for all remediation and clean up costs. Until new legislation is enacted with stringent safeguards, it is time for a moratorium on copper-nickel mining rather than committing to decades of environmentally harmful, long-term pollution to our waterways from Lake Superior to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
We may be Minnesota nice, but we sure aren’t Minnesota stupid.