The northeastern part of Minnesota has long been known as the Iron Range for the abundance of iron and mining that took place there. Over the past 25 years, mining jobs have been decreasing, but increasing copper values and potentially large, untapped deposits could renew the mining interest in northern Minnesota. It remains to be seen if it can be done without detrimentally impacting the environment.
New mining is seen as a pathway to improve the economy of northern Minnesota, and a way to add jobs. There are several companies interested in tapping Minnesota’s copper, nickel, gold and silver deposits, and they are promising large economic returns. PolyMet, one of the companies expressing interest, has estimated their operations would employ 400 and create 500 jobs in related fields. Approximately $250 million would go into the economy of northern Minnesota.
The one downside to such a plan is the potential impact on the state’s environment. The rock in which the metals reside is high in sulfur, and it can easily become sulfuric acid that runs off into local streams and water bodies, leaving them in ruins. The acidification of local water can have long-lasting impacts on local ecosystems. The inadvertent release of the metals being mined can also pose environmental risks. Similar mining operations in the western United States have resulted in environmental disasters that should never be repeated.
Adding more mining in this state can be a positive thing. We just need to make sure potential mining companies are held to high standards. Northern Minnesota is home to some of our most treasured natural environments. The Boundary Waters, Superior National Forest and the North Shore of Lake Superior provide getaways for tourists, prime fishing spots and some of the best scenery in the state. These too have economic value that we shouldn’t spoil. We should strive to improve our state’s economy, but we must take careful consideration of our natural assets, our lakes, rivers, trees and wildlife. These are invaluable assets that are not easily replaced or rehabilitated.