No sulfide mines without escape-proof planThe Minnesota chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers wrote the state’s U.S. Senators and congressional delegation expressing concerns about proposed sulfide mining operations in northern Minnesota.
By: Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Lake County News Chronicle
The Minnesota chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers wrote the state’s U.S. Senators and congressional delegation expressing concerns about proposed sulfide mining operations in northern Minnesota. The two foreign-owned sulfide mining operations include PolyMet’s mine near Hoyt Lakes and the Duluth Metals mine adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Much of the debate surrounding sulfide mining revolves around whether companies have adequate bankruptcy-proof financial assurances in place to cover cleanup costs when, not if, acid-mine drainage occurs. This is no small issue. PolyMet’s proposed mine, for example, is within the Partridge River watershed, a headwater tributary of the St. Louis River, which enters Lake Superior at Duluth.
Copper-mining operations, sometimes called “hard-rock mining” or “sulfide mining,” have left toxic scars across the country, with acids and sulfides leaching into streams, contaminating rivers and lakes, killing fish, and leaving dead zones. And PolyMet says acid-mine drainage will be occurring at its proposed Hoyt Lakes mine “for up to 2,000 years.”
In 2004 the federal government estimated it would cost taxpayers $7.8 billion to clean up 63 of the mining operations designated as Superfund sites by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cleaning up all abandoned hard-rock mines would cost between $20 billion and $54 billion. In January 2012, the EPA released its annual Toxic Release Inventory. Metal mining was at the top of the list of polluters across the country. Such mining was responsible for 41 percent of all pollution in our country last year.
While the mining industry claims new technologies can help avert these kinds of problems here in Minnesota, skeptical sportsmen and women have demanded proof, and argue that the short-term extraction of sulfides pose a long-term threat to the pristine qualities of an area dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism, not mining, for its future.
“In Minnesota, the fishing industry alone supports 50,000 jobs and recreational fishing brings in $3 billion a year,” explains Minnesota BHA vice-chair Erik Jensen, “which would be in jeopardy when acid-mine drainage (AMD) leaches into creeks, streams, rivers and watersheds, eventually ending up in Lake Superior. In the 1990s, acid drainage from the Formosa Mine polluted streams in Oregon and reduced the fish population by 90 percent.”
In fact, mining of sulfide-metal ore has never been accomplished without causing eventual acid-metal leachate pollution of ground and surface waters. As a result, Wisconsin placed a moratorium on sulfide mining operations in 1997, until it could be demonstrated that such a mine would not pollute the water. The moratorium is still in place. What’s more, there are no examples in the world of such a mine that has not polluted.
The very lifeblood of northern Minnesota’s economy is its healthy watersheds and waterways, but PolyMet’s proposed mine waste will be leaching sulfuric acid into those same northern Minnesota waterways “for up to 2,000 years.” “Is 20 years of a couple hundred sulfide mining jobs worth 2,000 years of poisoned waterways and watersheds that will cost the rest of us millions, and possibly billions, to clean up?” asks Bob Tammen, a BHA volunteer (and former miner) from Soudan.
Minnesota BHA co-chair Darrell Spencer adds, “The jobs are temporary. The profits are going to foreign ownership and foreign investors. The copper is going to Canada to be processed. The minerals will end up in China helping their GDP. But Minnesotans will be left to live with the toxic legacy of damaged waterways and watersheds forever.”
Statewide polling shows an overwhelming 85 percent of Minnesotans favor requiring mining companies to prove they have the financial means to clean up pollution from their mines before beginning operations. The risks to taxpayers and northern Minnesota’s waterways should not be brushed under the rug by legislators.
Bruce Johnson, a former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency worker and DNR field chemist, says, “These guys are going to make multi-millions of dollars. We don’t want to be left with a bunch of mining pits full of polluted water that even ducks won’t land on.” Mining companies have compiled a long record of promising safe practices, breaking those promises, and then shifting the costs of dealing with the damage onto taxpayers.
“The risks to taxpayers cannot be overstated,” adds Bob Tammen. “There’s no profit in operating clean-up at closed mines. Makes a lot more sense for parent companies to strip the subsidiary of assets and then file for bankruptcy, letting the rest of us pick up the bill.”
BHA members are dedicated to protecting big, wild habitat and the waters that support America’s hunting and fishing traditions, and along with Minnesota’s nearly 2 million hunters and anglers, we urge state and congressional legislators to ensure that no sulfide mining is permitted in Minnesota without genuine, escape-proof assurances that the mine operators will be held fully responsible for any and all damage resulting from acid-mine drainage.